William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850) was a prominent English Romantic poet whose Lyrical Ballads, co-authoring with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature. He is known as the poet of Nature, reflecting his inner feelings while appreciating the wonderings and beauties of it.
Ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood was completed in 1804 and published in Poems, in Two Volumes (1807). It is composed in 11 stanzas, and the modern critics called it the "Great Ode" and one of his best poems ever. Like his many other poems, the narrator is said to be the composer, i.e. Wordsworth, himself. All of Wordsworth concern turns upon his vision of "intimations of immortality" which is a transcendental naturalism. The simplest and perhaps most accurate sense we can give to Wordsworthian "immortality" is its return to the childlike condition of having no consciousness of death.
Wordsworth starts Ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood with:
"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.â€¦" (1-5)
It seems that here Wordsworth is remembering a stage in his life, "There was a time", when he was in union with Nature, "celestial light". This light perhaps means something different from ordinary, earthly, scientific light; Wordsworth by "celestial light" could mean 'the light of the mind'.
The second stanza is the development of the first stanza; speaking of ordinary, physical kind of vision and suggesting further the meaning of "celestial". Wordsworth tells us how he responds to the loveliness of nature. By these descriptions Wordsworth confirms the richness of his senses. but he still feels that something," the glory", is missing. He could see the beauties and happenings of nature very clearly:
"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 birthâ€¦" (10-16)
His senses are at their best; he could hear, see, and feel the blessings of Nature.
"Ye blesséd 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 allâ€¦" (37-42)
The stage which Wordsworth is depicting is very much like Lacan's Stage of Real. It is in this stage that the child is in perfect harmony with Nature, and its entire component: Mother, and the child's environment. Wordsworth also mentioned in the poem: "And the Babe leaps up on his Mother's arm: - I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!" (50-1). As if he is the babe in the mother's arm.
This stage, however, is not permanent. At the end of each stanza, Wordsworth repeatedly suggests that he has lost this stage:
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.
But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth.
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
Forget the glories he hath known,
And that imperial palace whence he came.
His tone suggests that he longs to turn back to that Real Stage, but he, like all the human beings, has passed it. It seems the narrator is now in the Lacanian Symbolic Stage. He feels the "Lack", the "desire" to have something that is no longer in his possession. Through using "language", he expresses his bewilderment with being in the Symbolic Stage.
In stanza seven, Wordsworth wraps up the whole three stages masterfully, with simple, yet powerful words:
(Real Stage)â†’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,
(Imagery Stage)â†’Fretted by sallies of his mother's kisses,
(Symbolic Stage)â†’With light upon him from his father's eyes!
See, at his feet, some little plan 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... (86-95)
He continuously warns the child of losing the Real stage:
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 lifeâ€¦ (122-9)
In his poem Ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, Wordsworth starts admiring and cherishing the Real Stage, or even the sweet realization of self in Imaginary Stage. He, however, expresses his "Lack" of it now that he is in the Symbolic Stage, at the end each stanza. He "desire" for the perfect, for the "Other". He, however, does not see this perfection in the Symbolic Stage. In other words, he does not want to go forward, instead he longs for what is history now. His "desire" is in what he had experienced in the past, not what he will gain while being in the Symbolic Stage.
He concludes the poem by saying that although the "visionary gleam" and the "glory" are gone, which could be synonymous with the Real and Imaginary Stages, but he still tries to preserve his uniqueness with Nature, and find happiness and inspiration in its component parts. Thus, he uses the "Language of the Father", in order to describe and cherishes what he has experienced in the Real and Imaginary Stages.
As the last lines of the poem says:
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.