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Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopedia - Volume 10
Read in 2022



Section: Poetry - p.7027+

Wordsworth Remembers His Childhood

aka 'Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

"The poet begins by stating that the dreams and visions of his youth had made the Earth..." indeed, the poem echoes The Bible's Genesis.

There is talk of 'celestial light' and 'glory' in the opening verse.

In the second is the Rainbow. This I had not acknowledged at first it capitalised. It was the line "The Winds come to me from the fields of sleep," that I pondered on the capitalisation of the word Wind. Was this simply a quirk of this present edition or was it intended by the author? Perhaps the author was talking about dreams, however I couldn't help but relate the word "Wind" to the line in Genesis where "In the beginning God (or the Gods) created the Word." I have heard this explained as Consciousness; the gods made man a conscious being. In Wordsworth's line, if my interpretation is following his intention correctly, he is saying that this Consciousness, comes to us through sleep, through our dream time.

One may wonder why the poet then didn't perhaps say "Dreams come to me from the fields of sleep"? Well, then the line would lack a syllable and not flow the same.

I looked online to confirm that Wind is indeed capitalised elsewhere; at it is, but so too is the word Echoes on the previous line, in which in my edition it is not:

"I hear the Echoes through the mountains throng," What is the importance of this word and what is it's alternative meaning? I am unsure.

According to there are two occurrences of the word Echo in the bible:

Habakkuk 2:11
For the stone will cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the woodwork will answer it.

Zephaniah 2:14
Herds will lie down in the midst of her, all the animals of the nations. Both the pelican and the porcupine will lodge in its capitals. Their calls will echo through the windows. Desolation will be in the thresholds, for he has laid bare the cedar beams.

In each case it is an answering to a crying out. and indeed Wordsworth is responding to his previous line about grief: "No more shall grief of mine the season wrong;"

Returning to an observation I made at PoetryFoundation, they choose to begin the page with a verse from Wordsworth's poem "My Heart Leaps Up":

The child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

This provided me with a strange new consideration, how, as he says, the child creates the man; out of ourselves when we are children are born the adults we become. How that child teaches us to become the adults we are to become; our life experiences and what we learn back then all dictate our future. Learn some bad habits and they might well be stuck with you.

By the fifth verse Wordsworth goes a step further I think and talks of past lives. Indeed the annotations from the author of this section of the Encylopedia says "We may have lived before... [Here] he begins to think what these remembered visions of his vanished childhood mean... in manhood we catch fleeting visions of our childhood, so may we have faint visions of a previous existence." Perhaps this author is putting too much of his own beliefs into the mouth of Wordsworth, but here are the lines:

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.

I find this verse to be immensely powerful. That we are born into this material plane and essentially forget (or are promptly and increasingly distracted) from the the world from whence we came, the Truth; God's home. I like the concept of our Soul being a Star that guides us; you could attribute this to "gut instinct". Regarding "God's home" as Wordsworth calls is, Heaven is not beyond, or "up there" but, as he says, it lies all about us, at least in our infancy. Sadly, as he goes on to explain, this material realm in which reside, is a prison-house, and the shades of it immediately begin to close around us from our birth. This is particularly dark considering the beauty that Wordsworth seems to paint of the natural world. There is hope though; that growing Boy is capable of seeing the light and where it comes from; we can see that light when we are happy and joyful.

This life, as Wordsworth states, is one where we travel farther (within this natural world, here on Earth) from the east [and heading westward]. However, the author does later clarify that "we are to remember that the poet never asserts as a fact that he believes in a past existence. The idea is a very old one and is a feature of some religions, such as Buddhism, and the poet suggests it [only?] for a poetic purpose..." This to me is called "covering one's back"!

The Encyclopedia author goes on to add that it "may be... [that] our present existence here on Earth, with all its distraction and pleasures, has dulled in us the memory of the... heaven, whence our souls have come, just as the experience of manhood and age dulls in us the memories of our childhood." Given that this Encyclopedia was written around 100 years ago it is surprising to me that already back then it was already possible to see how distracting our material world, as we have made it, had become. When we consider how much more distracting our world now is by comparison, and this is quite alarming; we are surely heading (or being lead) more and more down a wrong path. "[As] the years grow upon [us] and make the wonders of the world commonplaces to [us], [we] will become ever less conscious of these wonders."


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