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Our noisy years seem moments in the being
To perish never;
Nor Man nor Boy,
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
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.
Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
And let the young Lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound !
Ye that pipe and ye that play,
Feel the gladness of the May !
Though nothing can bring back the hour
We will grieve not, rather find
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death In years that bring the philosophic mind.
And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,
Is lovely yet;
The edition of 1807 concluded with this poem, which Wordsworth simply named Ode, prefixing to it the motto, “ Paulò majora canamus.” In 1815, when he revised the poem throughout, he named it, in the characteristic manner of many of his titles-diffuse and yet preciseOde. Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood; and he then prefixed to it the lines of his own earlier poem on the Rainbow (March 1802) :
The child is Father of the Man ;
Bound each to each by natural piety.
Think not of any severing
In edd. 1807 to 1820, it was placed by itself at the end of the poems, and formed their natural conclusion and climax. In edd. 1827 and 1832, it was placed, inappropriately, amongst the “Epitaphs and Elegiac Poems." The evident mistake of placing it amongst these seems to have suggested to him in 1836 its having a place by itself,—which place it retained in the subsequent editions of 1842 and 1849,—when it closed the series of minor poems in vol. V., and preceded the Excursion in vol. VI. The same arrangement was adopted in the double-columned single volume edition of 1845.
The Ode on Immortality was written at intervals, between the years 1803 and 1806; and it was subjected to frequent and careful revision.
of Wordsworth's bears more evident traces in its structure at once of inspiration and elaboration ; of original fight of thought and afflatus on the one hand, and on the other of careful sculpture and fastidious choice of phrase. But it is remarkable that there are very few changes of text in the successive editions. Most of the alterations were made before 1815, and the omission of some feeble lines which originally stood in stanza viii., in the editions of 1807 and 1815, was a great advantage in disencumbering the poem. The main revision and elaboration of this Ode, however—an elaboration which suggests the passage of the glacier ice over the rocks of White Moss Common, where the poem was murmured out stanza by stanza—was all finished before it first saw the light in 1807. In form it is irregular and original. And perhaps the most remarkable thing in its structure, is the frequent change of the keynote, and the skill and delicacy with which the transitions are made. “The feet throughout are iambic. The lines vary in length from the Alexandrine to the line with two accents. There is a constant ebb and flow in the full tide of song, but scarce two waves are alike." (Hawes Turner, Selections from Wordsworth.)
In the “notes” to the Selections just referred to, there is an excellent commentary on this Ode on Immortality, almost every line of which is worthy of minute analysis and study. Several of the following are suggested by Mr Turner.
(1.) The winds come to me, from the fields of sleep, The morning breeze blowing from the fields that were dark during the hours of sleep. (2.)
But there's a tree, of many, one, Compare Browning's May and Death
Only one little sight, one plant
Woods have in May, &c. (3.)
The pansy at my feet
Doth the same tale repeat, French “Pensée." Pansies, that's for thoughts.” Ophelia in Hamlet.
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting, This thought Wordsworth owed, consciously or unconsciously, to Plato. Though he tells us in the Fenwick note that he did not mean to inculcate the belief, there is no doubt that he clung to the notion of a life pre-existing the present, on grounds similar to those on which he believed in a life to come. But there are some differences in the way in which the idea commended itself to Plato and to Wordsworth. The stress was laid by Wordsworth on the effect of terrestrial life in putting the higher faculties to sleep, and making us “forget the glories we have known." Plato, on the other hand, looked upon the mingled experiences of mundane life as inducing a gradual but slow remembrance (årduinois) of the past. Compare Tennyson's Two Voices, and Wordsworth's sonnet
“Man's life is like a sparrow, mighty king.” (5.) Filling from time to time his “humorous stage”
With all the persons, 2.C., with the dramatis persona.
Thou oye among the blind, That, deaf and silent, reaďst the eternal deep, There is an admirable parallel illustration of Wordsworth's use of this figure (describing one sense in terms of another), in the lines in Aira Force Valley
“A soft eye-music of slow waving boughs.”
(7.) 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! Compare with this, the lines in the fourth book of The Excursion, beginning
Alas! the endowment of immortal Pain
Is matched unequally with custom, time. (8.)
Fallings from us, vanishings, The outward sensible universe, visible and tangible, seeming to fall away from us, as unreal, to vanish in unsubstantiality. See the explanation of this youthful experience in the Fenwick note. That confession of his boyish days at Hawkshead,“ 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” (by which he explains those
fallings from us, vanishings, &c.), suggests a similar experience and confession of Cardinal Newman's in his Apologia. (See p. 67.)
The Rev. Robert Perceval Graves, late of Windermere, now of Dublin,
wrote thus in 1850. “I remember Mr Wordsworth saying, that at a
Those obstinate questionings,
Fallings from us, vanishings ; &c."
“OXFORD, April 21, 1881. “MY DEAR SIR,-- You will be glad, I am sure, to receive an interpretation, which chance enabled me to obtain from Wordsworth himself of a passage in the immortal Ode to Immortality.
“It happened one day that the poet, my wife, and I were taking