Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

Original Text: 
William Wordsworth, Poems in Two Volumes (1807). See The Manuscript of William Wordsworth's Poems, in Two Volumes (1807): A Facsimile (London: British Library, 1984). bib MASS (Massey College Library, Toronto).
    The child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
    Bound each to each by natural piety.
               (Wordsworth, "My Heart Leaps Up")
2     The earth, and every common sight,
3                    To me did seem
4               Apparelled in celestial light,
5          The glory and the freshness of a dream.
6It is not now as it hath been of yore;--
7               Turn wheresoe'er I may,
8                    By night or day.
9The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
10               The Rainbow comes and goes,
11               And lovely is the Rose,
12               The Moon doth with delight
13     Look round her when the heavens are bare,
14               Waters on a starry night
15               Are beautiful and fair;
16     The sunshine is a glorious birth;
17     But yet I know, where'er I go,
18That there hath past away a glory from the earth.
19Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
20     And while the young lambs bound
21               As to the tabor's sound,
22To me alone there came a thought of grief:
23A timely utterance gave that thought relief,
24               And I again am strong:
25The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep;
26No more shall grief of mine the season wrong;
27I hear the Echoes through the mountains throng,
28     The Winds come to me from the fields of sleep,
29               And all the earth is gay;
30                    Land and sea
31          Give themselves up to jollity,
32               And with the heart of May
33          Doth every Beast keep holiday;--
34               Thou Child of Joy,
35Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy Shepherd-boy.
36Ye blessèd creatures, I have heard the call
37     Ye to each other make; I see
38The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;
39     My heart is at your festival,
40          My head hath its coronal,
41The fulness of your bliss, I feel--I feel it all.
42               Oh evil day! if I were sullen
43               While Earth herself is adorning,
44                    This sweet May-morning,
45               And the Children are culling
46                    On every side,
47               In a thousand valleys far and wide,
48               Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm,
49And the Babe leaps up on his Mother's arm:--
50               I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!
51               --But there's a Tree, of many, one,
52A single field which I have looked upon,
53Both of them speak of something that is gone;
54               The Pansy at my feet
55               Doth the same tale repeat:
56Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
57Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
58Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
59The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
60                 Hath had elsewhere its setting,
61                    And cometh from afar:
62               Not in entire forgetfulness,
63               And not in utter nakedness,
64But trailing clouds of glory do we come
65               From God, who is our home:
66Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
67Shades of the prison-house begin to close
68               Upon the growing Boy,
69But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
70               He sees it in his joy;
71The Youth, who daily farther from the east
72               Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,
73               And by the vision splendid
74               Is on his way attended;
75At length the Man perceives it die away,
76And fade into the light of common day.
77Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;
78Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,
79And, even with something of a Mother's mind,
80               And no unworthy aim,
81               The homely Nurse doth all she can
82To make her Foster-child, her Inmate Man,
83               Forget the glories he hath known,
84And that imperial palace whence he came.
85Behold the Child among his new-born blisses,
87See, where 'mid work of his own hand he lies,
88Fretted by sallies of his mother's kisses,
89With light upon him from his father's eyes!
90See, at his feet, some little plan or chart,
91Some fragment from his dream of human life,
92Shaped by himself with newly-learn{`e}d art
93               A wedding or a festival,
94               A mourning or a funeral;
95                    And this hath now his heart,
96               And unto this he frames his song:
97                    Then will he fit his tongue
98To dialogues of business, love, or strife;
99               But it will not be long
100               Ere this be thrown aside,
101               And with new joy and pride
102The little Actor cons another part;
103Filling from time to time his "humorous stage"
104With all the Persons, down to palsied Age,
105That Life brings with her in her equipage;
106               As if his whole vocation
107               Were endless imitation.
108Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie
109               Thy Soul's immensity;
110Thou best Philosopher, who yet dost keep
111Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind,
112That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep,
113Haunted for ever by the eternal mind,--
114               Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!
115               On whom those truths do rest,
116Which we are toiling all our lives to find,
117In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave;
118Thou, over whom thy Immortality
119Broods like the Day, a Master o'er a Slave,
120A Presence which is not to be put by;
121Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might
122Of heaven-born freedom on thy being's height,
123Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke
124The years to bring the inevitable yoke,
125Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?
126Full soon thy Soul shall have her earthly freight,
127And custom lie upon thee with a weight,
128Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!
129               O joy! that in our embers
130               Is something that doth live,
131               That Nature yet remembers
132What was so fugitive!
133The thought of our past years in me doth breed
134Perpetual benediction: not indeed
135For that which is most worthy to be blest;
136Delight and liberty, the simple creed
137Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,
138With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:--
139               Not for these I raise
140               The song of thanks and praise
141          But for those obstinate questionings
142          Of sense and outward things,
143          Fallings from us, vanishings;
144          Blank misgivings of a Creature
145Moving about in worlds not realised,
146High instincts before which our mortal Nature
147Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised:
148               But for those first affections,
149               Those shadowy recollections,
150          Which, be they what they may
151Are yet the fountain-light of all our day,
152Are yet a master-light of all our seeing;
153          Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make
154Our noisy years seem moments in the being
155Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
156          To perish never;
157Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,
158               Nor Man nor Boy,
159Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
160Can utterly abolish or destroy!
161          Hence in a season of calm weather
162               Though inland far we be,
163Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
164               Which brought us hither,
165          Can in a moment travel thither,
166And see the Children sport upon the shore,
167And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.
168Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
169               And let the young Lambs bound
170               As to the tabor's sound!
171We in thought will join your throng,
172               Ye that pipe and ye that play,
173               Ye that through your hearts to-day
174               Feel the gladness of the May!
175What though the radiance which was once so bright
176Be now for ever taken from my sight,
177          Though nothing can bring back the hour
178Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
179               We will grieve not, rather find
180               Strength in what remains behind;
181               In the primal sympathy
182               Which having been must ever be;
183               In the soothing thoughts that spring
184               Out of human suffering;
185               In the faith that looks through death,
186In years that bring the philosophic mind.
187And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,
188Forebode not any severing of our loves!
189Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;
190I only have relinquished one delight
191To live beneath your more habitual sway.
192I love the Brooks which down their channels fret,
193Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;
194The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
195                    Is lovely yet;
196The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
197Do take a sober colouring from an eye
198That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;
199Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
200Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
201Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
202To me the meanest flower that blows can give
203Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.


1] Wordsworth recorded that "two years at least passed between the writing of the four first stanzas and the remaining part." Begun on Saturday, March 27, 1802: "At breakfast William wrote part of an ode." The poem was evidently finished in some form down to the end of the fourth stanza by April 4 when Coleridge composed the first version of his Dejection: An Ode, which echoed phrases from his friend's new poem. After two years, Wordsworth completed his ode, by early in 1804. Long afterwards, in 1843, he remarked of the poem: "Nothing was more difficult for me in childhood than to admit the notion of death as a state applicable to my own being.... with a feeling congenial to this, I was often unable to think of external things as having external existence, and I communed with all that I saw as something not apart from, but inherent in, my own immaterial nature. Many times while going to school have I grasped at a wall or tree to recall myself from this abyss of idealism to the reality. At that time I was afraid of such processes. In later periods of life I have deplored, as we have all reason to do, a subjugation of an opposite character, and have rejoiced over the remembrances, as is expressed in the lines--'obstinate questionings/Of sense and outward things,/Fallings from us, vanishings" etc." For the general idea of the poem, cf. Vaughan's Retreat. The three preliminary lines are from Wordsworth's brief poem beginning "My heart leaps up," composed on March 26, 1802, the day before the beginning of the ode. Back to Line
86] Six years: in Poems, 1807, "four years." Throughout the stanza, Wordsworth seems to have had young Hartley Coleridge in mind. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
J. R. MacGillivray
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.377.