‘Ode on imitation of immortality’ by Wordsworth is built on a simple but majestic plan. The poet began it at the height of his genius in the middle of the splendid decade between 1797 and 1807. He had recovered his balance after the failure of his hopes in the French Revolution. The poem was started in the spring of 1802 and by summer the first four stanzas had been completed. It was finished from two to four years later. In spite of the delay in its composition, it retains its unity. Stanzas (I-IV) tell of spiritual crises. The middle stanzas (V-VIII) provide an explanation and a theory of recollection from a pre-natal existence. The last three stanzas (IX-XI) give a consolation that life has still a meaning a value even if the vision is lost. In all three parts of the long poem Wordsworth speaks of what is most important and most original in his poetry.
The poem is an ode and majestic lyric. It is personal in tone and deals with a lofty meditative theme. Both the elements of thought and melody are in it. It is made of irregular stanzas. In the first few stanzas the diction is simple but in the last few stanzas the diction rises to a pitch of high contemplation and philosophy. The poem is about man and nature. In the first few stanzas Wordsworth gives us all the sights and sounds of nature, the rainbow and the rose, the moon and the starry nights, the birds and the young lamb, the mountains and winds. In the last few stanzas he talks of the human child, the immortal soul or the pre-natal existence, the earthly pleasure, palsied age and shades of the prison house, and human life on earth.
The poem is full of contrasts which serve as a poetical device. Wordsworth speaks of Platonic shadowy recollections which suggest a connection, a continuous existence of the soul, from the part to the present through birth. Another contrast is used between lamentations in the first part and exultations in the latter part of the poem. In the opening stanzas the poet laments the loss of celestial heights he possessed in his childhood. In the closing stanzas he exults in the strength that he derives from his present recollections of the past. The purpose is to heighten by contrast the victory of soul against its temporary losses, the joy of its permanent possessions. Spiritual life is contrasted to physical life, the heavenly to the earthly. The world is conceived as a prison house which closes up the soul. Earthly pleasures and habits of invitation deepen the prison gloom. But spiritual powers resist the earthly. These powers of the mind remind man that he is a creature moving about in a world of larger compass than this earthly one. They are high instincts that fight successfully the tendencies of our mortal nature. They lead us to that immortal sea that brought us hither.
This ode reflects the glorification of childhood, belief in the immortality of the human soul, transmigration of soul from one world to another and the influence of worldly experiences or earthly pleasures. It deals philosophically the gradual loss of innocence, purity and sublimity of childhood and the advance of years. It also brings out the sweet benediction of the philosophic mind and lastly the nights and sounds of nature. The poet shows his passion for the company of nature, his contemplative mind and his great faith in the sacredness of the human soul. We find in this ode more of Wordsworth as a philosopher than as a poet. We see him more as a moral teacher than as a singer. We acknowledge the poetic imagery and the music of the verses that flow. We are impressed by the mystery and calm of the atmosphere which the poem creates as it rolls from stanza to stanza. The immortality ode is a great philosophical poem. The first four stanzas of the poem are lyrical and emotional. They offer no reason or explanations. In the fifth stanza, the poet embarks on philosophy. The middle part of the poem gives Wordsworth’s philosophy of childhood. He tries to reduce his scattered impression and convictions into an orderly system.
His philosophy has been compared to Plato’s. But it describes his own personal experience of life and the process of ageing. He expounds that the new born soul comes ‘from an imperial palace’. The little child still has clear memories and visions of this other heavenly place. But as he grows old, they begin to fade. Earth does her best to make him forget this other place and its glories. The child himself, too, hurries on this process of forgetfulness. Eventually he grows up and forgets this vision but still has rare glimpses of this glory. When he is mature, these glimpses are best and ‘fade into the light of common day’. The poet expresses his sense of loss and recovery through the image of light. The imagery of night presides over the whole poem. Two other images of sea and of flowers, are also used.