Ode on Intimations of Immortality is one of the greatest poems of William Wordsworth. It is claimed as “Wordsworth’s single but supreme triumph in the highest kind of lyrical architecture”. In its theme as well as technique, in its mood as well as moral, this ode is a classic of Wordsworthian poetry and remains an outstanding poem of a great age of poetry.
The poem certainly owes much to the Platonic philosophy for its doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul. It bears a close analogy to Plato’s teaching about the immortality of the soul. Wordsworth traces here the course of the soul from heaven to earth and the hearing of heavenly visions on the earthly existence.
Wordsworth’s chief argument in the poem, however, is not the doctrine of the pre-existence of the human soul. The idea of pre-existence is, of course, emphasized in the title. Yet, it is only a secondary element in the poem. Wordsworth’s primary thought in the poem is about childhood and its higher endowments. The entire speculation about the previous existence of the soul is based on the poet’s faith in the blessed experience of childhood. The central theme of the poem is noted in the poet’s idealization of childhood.
Of course, there are many to disagree with the poet’s idealization of childhood. It has been asserted that Wordsworth has an over-idealized childhood. In what sense is a child a great philosopher? Is it not too much to call him ‘a mighty prophet! Seer blest’? In what sense does he read the ‘eternal deep’? These are the deep questions, which have been raised by many, including Coleridge, and definitely remain engrossingly controversial.
The greatness of the Ode, however, does not rest solely on Wordsworth’s philosophization of the blessedness of childhood. The permanent value of the Ode lies, too, in the poet’s spiritual conviction, imaginative excellence, emotional intensity and poetic sense. The poem is a piece of spiritual autobiography. Wordsworth has succeeded wonderfully here in convincing others his own spiritual conviction. He has presented his own emotional realization with unequalled power and succeeded in bringing the individual feeling to the universal experience.
The chief glamour of the Ode is, however, felt in its treatment of Nature and Man. In this respect, the Ode is a characteristic work of Wordsworth. Wordsworth’s deeper insight into external Nature, his love for the simple and innocent aspect of human life and his vision about the relation between Man and Nature, as one in a permanent tie, are all present here.
The poem is an ode. It is an irregular and complex ode. The stanzas of the poem vary in the number as well as metre of the lines. There is also the utmost variety in the length of different lines and in the order of rhymes.
The poem is a happy instance of Wordsworth’s technique. The poet has achieved admirably here a sustaining effect of his music. He has also varied his metre in accordance with the changes of his thoughts and feelings.
The diction of the poem is also highly admirable. It illustrates an ideal style of dignified simplicity. At the same time, it attains the rare poetic grandeur, which is never lost in pomposity or artificiality. His diction is evocative yet simple, and his verification, subtle yet sonorous, as heard in such lines as the following ones :
“But it will not be long
Ere this be thrown aside,
And with new joy and pride
The little Actor cons another part;
Filling from time to time his ‘humorous stage’
With all the persons, down to palsied Age,
That life brings with her in her equipage;
As if his whole vocation
Were endless imitation.”