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THE SENSE OF LIGHT IN "THE IMMORTALITY ODE" BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH - INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY FROM RECOLLECTIONS OF EARLY CHILDHOOD



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THE SENSE OF LIGHT IN "THE IMMORTALITY ODE"

BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH



William Wordsworth was born in 1770 in Cumberland in the Lake District. He attended the local Grammar School and then proceeded to St. John's College in Cambridge. In 1791 he travelled to France were his sympathies for the French Revolution were aroused. When the revolutionary movement turned to tyranny he suffered a great disillusionment and he became more and more conservative. In 1798 he spent a period in German with Coleridge and there they studied Kant and the idealist. In 1843 he was made Poet Laureate. Wordsworth spent most of his life in the Lake District, were he died in 1850; there with Coleridge he conceived the "Lyrical Ballads", the manifesto of the English romantic poetry. His best and most original verse was composed between 1797 and 1807; his main works are "The Prelude", an autobiographical poem, "The Excursion", and many sonnets and odes.



From "Prefaces to Lyrical Ballads" we know the Wordsworth's creative process: the poet draws his inspiration from the external world that gives him some sensorial stimuli; so he receives strong feelings that move his insight. But poems can't come out immediately: the poet must live his experience again in tranquillity, by means of imagination which recreates the same emotion, that is the sublimation of his sensorial experience now deprived of its material and realistic aspects.

The same Wordsworth says: "What is a Poet? . He is a man speaking to man: a man, it is true, endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, . who rejoices more than other man in the spirit of life that is in him."

Thus Wordsworth supports that poetry must use the familiar, simple language really used by men. He says that the language mustn't suffer from the interference of social conventions and "social vanity"; it must be immediate, genuine and forceful, capable to articulate sensations and thoughts rooted in personal experience and shared both by the poet and the reader. In his poems he used a connotative language made of similes and metaphors that suggest associations which arouse emotions and feelings, and appeal to the reader's imagination creating a sharp, clear picture in the mind, giving an emotional impact shared by the reader.

The Ode on "Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood", popularly known as "The Immortality Ode", was written in two phases between 1802 and 1807. The ode consists of eleven stanzas: the first four stanzas deal with his poetic crisis and were written in 1802; the last seven stanzas were written some four years later. The delay in composition, however, didn't affect the unity of thought and style of the poem.

The poem has built upon a very simple and majestic . The first four stanzas tell of major spiritual crisis, of some glory fading from the world of nature and end by questioning why this has happened. The stanzas in the middle (V-VIII) probe the nature of the glory passing away, the nature of the spiritual crisis and then attempt an exation of the crisis in terms of the Neoplatonic theory of reminiscence from a pre-natal existence. The last three stanzas tell of an ample recompense that the poet has gained in spite of the fact 'the visionary gleam' has perished. So the three parts of the poem deal with a poetic crisis, an exation of the crisis and a consolation or a compensation; the contents of the parts make an excellent organic whole, give us a taste of perfect unity and speak eloquently of something most important and original in Wordsworth's poetry.

Essential is the Neoplatonic idea that Wordsworth makes use of in this ode: the theory of reminiscence tells that human soul comes into this world from its original home, the heaven; and with the birth of the child begins his journey from heaven to this tangible material world. Fresh from heaven he finds himself wrapped in heavenly light and sees heavenly light in each and every object of nature. His vivid memories of celestial existence invest whatever he sees around with a kind of visionary shine. As he grows up, the charms and attractions of the material world stand on the way and attempt to efface those heavenly memories and keep away the romantic 'dreams and glories' in natural objects.

But there are moments in mature age when the mind travels back to his childhood days and gets vague intimations of immortality from his recollection of childhood memories of heavenly existence: both the shine memories of pre-natal heavenly life and the memories of childhood days give him a sense of immortality. And it is because of his fresh and clear memories of heavenly life, that a child comes to learn many truths which the grown ups spend all their lives to learn. With the passage of time, the vivid memories of life in heaven fade out of man's mind and he sees simply 'the light of common day' and he can no longer see the bright beauty that he could see before. In his mature days the man may be away from the seashore of immortality, his memories of that immortal heavenly life may be dimmer and dimmer but he is still able to catch occasional glimpses of it in moments of tranquillity.

In effect the Immortality Ode centres on the theme of loss and gain. The loss is the gradual decline of the powers of sensitivity and the keenness of imagination as a man passes from childhood to maturity. But if the loss is great, the gain is greater: the poet feels rejuvenated by the ample recompense that he has received in the form of new powers. Now he has a greater sensitivity and responsiveness, a greater power to think and feel; now he feels a greater sympathy for the suffering humanity, a greater faith in life after death. Now he has gained a more mature and profound philosophic insight into things and his love for the world of nature has deepened rather than declined. Now he feels a greater bond of sympathy between man and nature and thinks 'the soothing thoughts that spring out of human suffering'. Having witnessed the tragic sufferings of life, he has now become more meditative and reflective and he now sees things in their true perspective.

At the end of the Ode Wordsworth expresses a feeling of 'thanks to the human heart by which we live' and also a feeling of 'thanks to its tenderness, its joys and fears'. Now he blesses to humanity which with all its capacity of feeling sympathy, joy and fear makes life worth living. The clouds gathering around the setting sun now 'take a sober coloring' from his eyes and the humblest flower that blows can arouse in him profound thoughts 'too deep for tears', thoughts which even tears can't express. Now even the most ordinary objects of nature convey a deeper meaning to him: he finds them all pervaded by the divine sprit and therefore worthy of being worshipped. All the different objects of the natural world now stand out to be the embodiment of the eternal spirit of God and inspire in him a train of profound thoughts.

Thus the Immortality Ode begins with a sense of loss of some power, but ends with a deep meditation and a sense of gain of some new powers. And so far from being a conscious farewell to some departing powers, the Immortality Ode is a dedication to some new creative powers: the Immortality Ode is a poem about growing up, not a poem about growing old, in time when the man has a different lens to view things through, the lens of wisdom and experience.


INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY FROM RECOLLECTIONS OF EARLY CHILDHOOD


I


There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Apparelled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore;

Turn wheresoe'er I may,

By night or day,

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.


II


The Rainbow comes and goes,

And lovely is the Rose,

The Moon doth with delight

Look round her when the heavens are bare,

Waters on a starry night

Are beautiful and fair;

The sunshine is a glorious birth;

But yet I know, where'er I go,

That there hath past away a glory from the earth.


III


Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,

And while the young lambs bound

As to the tabor's sound,

To me alone there came a thought of grief:

A timely utterance gave that thought relief,

And I again am strong:

The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep;

No more shall grief of mine the season wrong;

I hear the Echoes through the mountains throng,

The Winds come to me from the fields of sleep,

And all the earth is gay;

Land and sea

Give themselves up to jollity,

And with the heart of May

Doth every Beast keep holiday;--

Thou Child of Joy,

Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy

Shepherd-boy!


IV


Ye blessed Creatures, I have heard the call

Ye to each other make; I see

The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;

My heart is at your festival,

My head hath its coronal,

The fulness of your bliss, I feel--I feel it all.

Oh evil day! if I were sullen

While Earth herself is adorning,

This sweet May-morning,

And the Children are culling

On every side,

In a thousand valleys far and wide,



Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm,

And the Babe leaps up on his Mother's arm:--

I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!

But there's a Tree, of many, one,

A single Field which I have looked upon,

Both of them speak of something that is gone:

The Pansy at my feet

Doth the same tale repeat:

Whither is fled the visionary gleam?

Where is it now, the glory and the dream?


V


Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing Boy,

But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,

He sees it in his joy;

The Youth, who daily farther from the east

Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,

And by the vision splendid

Is on his way attended;

At length the Man perceives it die away,

And fade into the light of common day.


VI


Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;

Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,

And, even with something of a Mother's mind,

And no unworthy aim,

The homely Nurse doth all she can

To make her Foster-child, her Inmate Man,

Forget the glories he hath known,

And that imperial palace whence he came.


VII


Behold the Child among his new-born blisses,

A six years' Darling of a pigmy size!

See, where 'mid work of his own hand he lies,

Fretted by sallies of his mother's kisses,

With light upon him from his father's eyes!

See, at his feet, some little or chart,

Some fragment from his dream of human life,

Shaped by himself with newly-learned art;

A wedding or a festival,

A mourning or a funeral;

And this hath now his heart,

And unto this he frames his song:

Then will he fit his tongue

To dialogues of business, love, or strife;

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 equie;

As if his whole vocation

Were endless imitation.


VIII


Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie

Thy Soul's immensity;

Thou best Philosopher, who yet dost keep

Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind,

That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep,

Haunted for ever by the eternal mind,--

Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!

On whom those truths do rest,

Which we are toiling all our lives to find,

In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave;

Thou, over whom thy Immortality

Broods like the Day, a Master o'er a Slave,

A Presence which is not to be put by;

Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might

Of heaven-born freedom on thy being's height,

Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke

The years to bring the inevitable yoke,



Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?

Full soon thy Soul shall have her earthly freight,

And custom lie upon thee with a weight

Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!


IX


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: not indeed

For that which is most worthy to be blest--

Delight and liberty, the simple creed

Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,

With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:

Not for these I raise

The song of thanks and praise;

But for those obstinate questionings

Of sense and outward things,

Fallings from us, vanishings;

Blank misgivings of a Creature

Moving about in worlds not realised,

High instincts before which our mortal Nature

Did tremble like a guilty Thing surprised:

But for those first affections,

Those shadowy recollections,

Which, be they what they may,

Are yet the fountain light of all our day,

Are yet a master light of all our seeing;

Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make

Our noisy years seem moments in the being

Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,

To perish never;

Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,

Nor Man nor Boy,

Nor all that is at enmity with joy,

Can utterly abolish or destroy!

Hence in a season of calm weather

Though inland far we be,

Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea

Which brought us hither,

Can in a moment travel thither,

And see the Children sport upon the shore,

And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.


X


Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!

And let the young Lambs bound

As to the tabor's sound!

We in thought will join your throng,

Ye that pipe and ye that play,

Ye that through your hearts to-day

Feel the gladness of the May!

What though the radiance which was once so bright

Be now for ever taken from my sight,

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind;

In the primal sympathy

Which having been must ever be;

In the soothing thoughts that spring

Out of human suffering;

In the faith that looks through death,

In years that bring the philosophic mind.


XI


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.

I love the Brooks which down their channels fret,

Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;

The innocent brightness of a new-born Day

Is lovely yet;

The Clouds that gather round the setting sun

Do take a sober colouring from an eye

That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;

Another race hath been, and other palms are won.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,

To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.







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