Carefully read the headnote to “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.” The poem is divided into two
main parts. Part I, the first four stanzas, states a phenomenon. Wordsworth once saw everything
in “celestial light,” but he has lost this vision. He ends with two questions:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
Part II, stanzas 5-11, answers these questions.
A. What is the answer?
The magic suffused into children that Wordsworth refers to as a “visionary dream” has faded.
Wordsworth directly states this in line 77: “And fade into the light of common day.” Wordsworth
says at the beginning of stanza five: “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises
with us, our life’s Star.” He believes that people are born wise, as he says: “Thou best
Philospopher, who yet dost keep/ Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind/ That, deaf and silent,
read’st the eternal deep” (lines 110-113). Here, he is implying that children can see into eternity.
Adults, by contrast, must stand by and watch the splendid vision die away: “At length the Man
perceives it die away/ And fade into the light of common day” (lines 75-56).
It is certain that this visionary dream has faded. Wordsworth doesn’t necessarily address where it
has gone, but one interpretation would be that it has gone to God. After all, Wordsworth
identifies God as the source of life and wisdom when he says, “But trailing clouds of glory do we
come/ From God, who is our home.” It is possible that the visionary dream returns to its source:
God and eternity.
B. What makes the speaker fear that there may be no afterlife?
The speaker fears that there may be no afterlife because people must be born again, after living a
life in which their creativity and wisdom actually fades. In lines 116-119, Wordsworth states:
“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 the
Slave.” In this quote, Wordsworth is clearly addressing the afterlife. He sees the grave as “dark”
because he believes that there is a horrible and painful side to the cycle which the soul must go
through. The analogy of a master over a slave also is very negative, implying that people cannot
break the chains of birth and rebirth. They must again and again live a life of gradually forgetting
the wisdom of their youth.
2. Interpret the following passage from stanza 10 of “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.”
Paraphrase it, being sure to rewrite it thoroughly in prose. In a separate section, indicate its
importance and relationship to the poem as a whole.