William Wordsworth’s Ode, also known as the “Great Ode” or “Immortality Ode”, reflects principles he sees as core values of the Romantic Poet. Wordsworth sees poets as prophets or visionaries. The poet’s romantic vision is beyond the observational powers of average men, and is both a blessing and a curse.
William Wordsworth – Romantic Vision
Wordsworth calls poetry the “breath” of all knowledge and also its “finer spirit”. He suggests scientific and academic knowledge is lifeless and sterile without romantic vision. In this context, “romantic” doesn’t refer to love between two people, but the idea that feelings of love, wonderment, creativity, and passion add to the value and beauty of knowledge. Throughout The Ode, romantic feelings and experiences are essential qualities of those with poetic vision. The immortality referred to in The Ode is not immortality of mankind, or even of the poet, himself. It’s the immortality of the inner child, the ability within us to see life as magical.
William Wordsworth – Childlike Vision
In The Ode, Wordsworth describes children as “the father of man”. He sees the poet’s vision as childlike and fresh. The poet sees the spiritually transcendent aspects of everyday life. Like a child, the poet can see the beauty and truth of the natural world. Adults generally disregard the child’s sense of wonderment at the world’s natural beauty. Like a child, the poet is able to cry for the death of the most commonplace flower. To weep for the most average flower, means to embrace the beauty in life’s most common moments.
Romantic Vision as a Blessing and a Curse
The paradox of the poem is the dual nature of romantic vision as both a blessing and a curse. The ability to see the extraordinary in the ordinary is a gift, giving depth and “immortality” to the life of man. However, the vision is also a curse; the childlike nature of the poet’s heart exposes him to ridicule and other injuries. The romantic poet feels the sorrow of everything around him, as well as the joy. The poet weeps for every average flower cut down, and cries for every child’s heart that becomes as stony as a man’s.
The romantic poet, by the nature of his heart, clings to innocence, but must also function in a world without it. The romantic poet’s job is to keep hope alive in the hearts of people who worship the mind. Wordsworth calls this “reconstituting the grounds of hope”. The poet walks a cruel tightrope, living and working in a world ruled by those who have lost their childlike innocence and vision, while preserving that vision and sharing it with others.