May 20, 2013

Wordsworth, "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood"

In my teens and twenties, William Wordsworth (1770-1850) might have been my main portal into the world of poetry, although in recent decades I’ve found him verbose, pompous and sententious. Even so, there are parts of The Prelude and the Intimations Ode (“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”) that still stir me and capture my own thoughts or impressions. 
I’m writing this in the wake of some country drives in the hilly parts of Ohio (south and east of Interstate 71), which—don’t laugh—are a little like Wordsworth’s Lake District in the north of England.

At about five pages, the entire Intimations Ode might be too long for those not inclined toward Wordsworth’s philosophizing, but here is the link for those who'd like it:
     Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth : The Poetry Foundation

And here are some parts of the ode that I still find relevant and important:

            There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
       The earth, and every common sight,
                              To me did seem
                      Apparelled in celestial light,
               The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
                      Turn wheresoe'er I may,
                              By night or day.
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

                                                            I raise
                      The song of thanks and praise
               . . .  for those obstinate questionings
               Of sense and outward things,
               Fallings from us, vanishings;

High instincts before which our mortal Nature
Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised:
                      But for those first affections,
                      Those shadowy recollections,
               Which, be they what they may
Are yet the fountain-light of all our day,

And of course there's the famous passage that provided the title for the 1961 movie Splendour in the Grass with Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood:

      Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
                      We will grieve not, rather find
                      Strength in what remains behind;
                      In the primal sympathy
                      Which having been must ever be;
                      In the soothing thoughts that spring
                      Out of human suffering;
                      In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

I’m now aware that secluded woodlands and farms might be ideal places for odd, foul, or criminal human behaviors, as well as the worship of nature and deities. They are certainly places for working your ass off. Awareness of such realities is part of the sadness of growing up, which Wordsworth addresses in the Ode.

However, pastoral scenes still stir me more than art and architecture do. I’ve never lived on a farm or in a remote area and I know nothing firsthand about the details or hardships of such lives. But for me the best manmade sights, sites and occasions in city life have never matched nature’s offerings, where there seems to be plenty of green, open space, variety, peace and silence, until I really listen—at which time there’s a festival in every field, every woods. Or are those the sounds of tornadoes or species slaughtering each other, which is necessary, for them? 


RuneE said...

I have been to The Lake District, and if your excellent photos are anything to go by, your area does not remind me of that district. However both Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter was very much in evidence there, and many other authors have at least had some stories based there.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Wordsworth is a state of mind. As just as your mind changes, so does the enjoyment of Wordsworth. I loved his "The Prelude" when I was in college. I devoured the whole book more than once. Now I look upon it as time well spent, but not a place where I can go again.

Pastoral scenes are the best art and architecture!!!!

Anonymous said...

Ok, you've made me soggy and weepy and now I must compose myself. I will return.

"There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream ..." that hurts my heart for days, it really does.

Banjo52 said...

RuneE, yes, those hills are bigger, more bare, much more dramatic. Maybe I'm thinking of patchwork fields farther south in England. As much as the amazing Lake District scenery, I remember Wordsworth's Dove Cottage--he was a tall man in small rooms with quite a few cohabitants, if memory serves. I didn't know Potter hailed from there. I wanted my two kids to love her eminent Britishness, but they wanted Disney.

Brenda, I couldn't agree more. When I go back to the writers who stirred me as a college kid, they rarely have the same power for more than a stanza here and there. I guess I was either an ass then or am an ass now, so it's gratifying when I agree with my younger self. Some of Wordsworthian Dylan Thomas still holds up for me and some of e.e. cummings. I wonder what percentage of Western thinkers would agree with us about the pastoral.

Also, let's note the unfairness of judging older writers by contemporary standards and tastes, though I do it all the time.

AH, I'm with you on the poem's opening. Sorry for the soggies. Or am I? If that opening doesn't cause soggies, maybe it's time for a check-up? Maybe one has become a Ford Fiesta. Also, I accidentally omitted WW's simple, killer line, "there hath pass'd away a glory from the earth."

The living poet Thomas Lux has written that Wordsworth "would be / immortal for the first stanzas of 'Intimations' alone." And Lux--witty, terse, bare bones, casual but impersonal--is about as different from Wordsworth as one can be.

Hannah Stephenson said...

I remember talking with a friend about how so many creative people (I think we were talking about inventors, maybe) come from the heartland. Maybe it's a marriage of creativity and working one's ass off? :)

Pasadena Adjacent said...

The San Gabriel's we're "Appareled in celestial light" for me until the day they caught fire. Coming up on five years now.

Nature and production are kissing cousins. No need to place them in a hierarchy.

...and so funny about your kids and Disney. I loved Disney too, but for the old cartoons. I also loved Harriet Potter. I remember going to the children's section where they had their own shelf. Lined up with frayed gray cloth covers and her beautiful illustrations on the front of each small volume.

Stickup Artist said...

I am struck by the line "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." I have heard this before, though not put so succinctly, and wonder if it's true. It would explain a lot! And I agree with you, awareness does, all to often, lead to sadness.

I also enjoyed your last paragraph where you state, "pastoral scenes still stir me more than art and architecture" and "the best manmade sights, sites and occasions in city life have never matched nature’s offerings..." I feel the same way and it's always nice when someone is in agreement with oneself. On this topic, it doesn't happen often for me!

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