Thursday, June 26, 2014

Poem of the Day: "Ode on Intimations of Immortality, Part VII" by William Wordsworth, Poet of the Month

For the Songs of Eretz Poem of the Day for June 26, 2014, we shall examine Part VII of "Ode on Intimations of Immortality" by William Wordsworth, Poet of the Month.

Ode on Intimations of Immortality, Part VII
William Wordsworth

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, 
Fretted by sallies of his mother’s kisses, 
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; 
               And this hath now his heart, 
          And unto this he frames his song: 
               Then will he fit his tongue 
To dialogues of business, love, or strife; 
          But it will not be long 
          Ere this be thrown aside, 
          And with new joy and pride 
The little actor cons another part; 
Filling from time to time his ‘humorous stage’ 
With all the Persons, down to palsied Age,
That life brings with her in her equipage;
          As if his whole vocation
          Were endless imitation.

Part VII has the most complex rhyme (abbabcdceecffdfggchhhii) and rhythm schemes that we have seen in our survey of Wordsworth--complex, but nevertheless unforced; the words fall with satisfaction upon the ear every time.  The poem is presented as a single stanza of twenty-three lines, but rhyme, rhythm, and the use of indentation serve to break the poem up into several pseudo-stanzas and two "hidden" sonnets.

The first pseudo-stanza, comprising the first eight lines, serves as an introduction and would also work well as a stand-alone poem.  The rhythm of this "octet" is iambic pentameter, and it has a rhyme scheme of:  abbabcdc.  It would seem that line seven stands alone and unrhymed until this chord is finally resolved in line fourteen, which is also in iambic pentameter--were the poem to end here, we would have a pretty good stand-alone sonnet.

Speeding the poem along with a pleasant lilt, lines nine through thirteen contain an iambic foot pattern of 4-4-3-4-3.  Lines fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, twenty-two, and twenty-three contain three feet a piece, the final two forming a tight closing couplet.

Lines eighteen through twenty-one form a pseudo-quatrain in iambic pentameter which is linked to the opening "octet" not only in rhythm but also by the first line of the "quatrain" rhyming with the sixth and eighth lines of the "octet."  Had Wordsworth ended line seven with a period instead of a comma, the opening "octet" followed by the pseudo-quatrain followed by the closing couplet would have also made a pretty good stand-alone sonnet.

The message of the poem is one that will delight parents of bright and imaginative children.  As I read, I pictured my son at age six surrounded by his Thomas the Tank Engine trains and sitting in the middle of the complex system of wooden track that he had constructed.  The stories he would tell!  His fantasy would usually end with a tragic train derailment or bridge disaster as Sir Topham Hatt looked on in dismay, and then he would move on to the next exciting adventure.  Perhaps it is no surprise that this happy, creative boy grew up to be an exceptionally gifted fine arts student--yes, "with light upon him from his father's eyes."

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