‘The Vision Splendid’

Wordsworth's poem reflects on the progress of human life from infancy to maturity

Topics

Faith

One of William Wordsworth’s best poems is an ode with the somewhat daunting title Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. It’s a reflection on the progress of human life from infancy to maturity. He thinks of children as natural believers, born with an inherent sense of awe at the freshness of creation enfolded in eternity:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Appareled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

We are creatures of divine origin —

…trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

But as we grow, darker ideas begin to cloud our understanding. In our youth we still keep some of that sense of the sacred (“nature’s priests”), but by the time we reach adulthood the light for most of us has faded:

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.

His conclusion, though, is more positive: faith is the great boon that helps us look beyond death.

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind;

In the primal sympathy

Which having been must ever be;

In the soothing thoughts that spring

Out of human suffering;

In the faith that looks through death…

…Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,

To me the meanest flower that blows [= blooms] can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

There is in this poem just a suspicion of the pagan hope for reincarnation, but in essence Wordsworth was an Anglican Christian, as his many “ecclesiastical sonnets” clearly show. He always had an Anglican’s suspicion of “crafty Rome,” but his marvelous description of Mary as “our tainted nature’s solitary boast” expresses in just five sweet words the whole Catholic teaching on the Mother of God!

The poem is thoroughly in tune with the mind of St. Augustine too: “You made us for yourself, O God, and our heart is restless until it rest in thee.”

What an unspeakably sad thing it is that the prevailing spirit of pessimism in our western world, particularly, adopts atheism as the default position and blinds growing children to their natural impulses.

 

David Daintree was President of Campion College (Australia’s only Catholic liberal arts college) from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 he founded and is now Director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Hobart.

From The Narthex

Christianity & Slavery

Hypocrisy is the offence that Christians are most often charged with. It is a powerful…

Laity Rising

Many a cardinal and bishop has praised lay involvement in the Church. One wonders if…

What Dobbs Does & Doesn’t Mean

Opinions abound about the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling. Here in California, highly publicized protests feature…