Sunday, December 12, 2010

Discuss Wordsworth’s views of childhood as expressed in the Ode: Intimations of Immortality.

According to Wordsworth, the child is an actor because the child imitates whatever he observes. The child will imitate a wed­ding, a festival, a mourning, a funeral; in short, whatever he wit­nesses. He will imitate the words he has heard in the course of a business discussion or in the course of a dispute. He will imitate persons of all kinds, their oddities, whims, follies. He will even imitate an old man trembling with palsy. Thus the period of childhood is like a theatrical stage on which different roles and parts are presented. The child’s whole vocation is endless imitation. This analysis of the child is psychologically true. In fact it is because of this imita­tive quality that the child learns to walk, run or talk.

Secondly, Wordsworth finds a divine significance in the child. Having recently come from his original home which is heaven, the child is still very near to God. ‘‘..trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our Home”. “Heaven lies about us in our infancy”. As such the child has vivid memories of his heavenly life and is wrapped up in a dream-like glory. Therefore, the child sees a divine glory in all objects of Nature. It is his memories of his heavenly life which invest Nature with a dream-like splendour. Because of these very memories, the child is conscious of a truth which the grown-up people are always struggling to discover; namely, the immortality of the soul. In other words, the child’s awareness of his immortality is based upon his recollections of heavenly life.
The child is, therefore, spiritually greater than man because, as one grows older and older, one becomes more and more absorbed in the pleasures of this world and more forgetful of one’s heavenly origin. It is this spiritual greatness of the child that makes Wordsworth write one of the most splendid apostrophes to childhood in all litera­ture. In the eighth stanza he addresses the child as the ‘best Philosopher’, ‘mighty Prophet’, ‘Seer blest’, ‘Eye among the blind’, and referring to its soul’s immensity says that it knows those truths of which even the most learned persons are ignorant and that it is aware of the immortality of the human soul. In the next stanza, Wordsworth refers to a personal experience of childhood. “Fallings from us, vanishings” and “those obstinate questionings of sense and outward things” take us back to poet’s own childhood when he used to feel that his flesh had melted away and when he had to grasp a tree or some other object in order to bring himself back to reality. As a child, Wordsworth felt the unreality of the world of senses (i.e., the external World of which we gain a knowledge by means of our five senses).
However, it is often stated that Wordsworth has been carried rather too far by his enthusiasm. His glorification of the child in the eighth stanza is a little too much for us. One critic justly objects that what Wordsworth has said in praise of the child leaves nothing to be said of great philosophers like Aristotle and Plato. One may believe that the child is probably vaguely conscious of its nearness to God, but it is rather hard to believe that the child is the best philosopher, seer blest, etc. Words­worth has idealized childhood.
It is not possible for the average reader to accept the doctrine of reminiscence. Wordsworth might have had memories of a heavenly life but we do not see any sign of an ordinary child having any such memories. But though this theory is rationally unconvincing, it may be regarded as poetically true.

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