22 September 2010

The Intimations Ode

I’ve been thinking about Wordsworth’s great Ode, subtitled, “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” I have myself been thinking about that subject; the last chapter of Ethics and Teaching concerns immortality.
In the ode Wordsworth recollects childhood as  moments when the Child experiences  absolute Oneness and joy, when everything was “appareled in celestial light.” But now, no longer a Child, it is not as it was then, and “the things which I have seen I now can see no more.” It is not that he does not experience happiness and even hear with joy, but something is missing—an intimation that there is more. “There’s a tree, of many, one,/A single field which I have looked upon” that speak of something gone. That somethingthat visionary gleam is gone. And the poet recognizes that the child still can see that visionary gleam, though inevitably that Child, by her own will and desire, will “grow into a life of endless imitation.” And there is in that reality a sadness for the poet.
The child, that Mighty Prophet, knows those truths the rest of us spend our lives toiling to find. But the remembrance of the joy of childhood—the ability to see not what the child sees but that the child sees brings the poet comfort: “O joy! That in our embers/Is something that doth live,/That nature yet remembers/What was so fugitive.” The thought of our past years in me doth breed/Perpetual benediction.” What the poet is thankful for is the intimations of immortality he sees in the childhood but that the child does not consider because it is a child.
And so the poet rejoices that though nothing can bring back that moment of splendour in the grass, “we will grieve not,” but rather, find comfort in “the soothing thoughts that spring Out of human suffering,: and “in the faith that looks through death/In years that bring the philosophic mind.” That is, as our experience inevitably causes suffering, we may think our way to happiness in our intimations of immortality. We can see the children play though we no longer can join them. Immortality is not perpetual life but life perpetual:
And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills and Groves
Forebode not any severing of our loves!
Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;
I only have relinquished one delight
To live beneath your more habitual sway.
Now that beauty that can be loved must be so at a distance and from the perspective of experience. But it can be loved nonetheless: To me the meanest flower that blows can give/Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.” It is in our thoughts that we comfort can attain. And we may experience joy in that reality.
And in light of this I’ve been thinking of Dylan. He says, “I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea/Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other times it's only me.” Intimations of Immortality.


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