1. Explain the relation between the first two stanzas. How are they connected?
2. All that Wordsworth was able to write of this poem at first was the first four stanzas, which end, "Whither is fled the visionary gleam?/ Where is it now, the glory and the dream?" Is there in the rest of the poem a simple answer to these questions?
3. In stanza 8, the "little child" is called the "best Philosopher," an "Eye among the blind," and a "Mighty Prophet." Can you make any sense of these appellations by referring to Hartley's theory of the association of ideas [link].
4. In stanza 10 the poet is once again able to celebrate the joy of natural things. If we had no other clues, the joyful tone of this stanza would suggest that the speaker has been able to allay his darker musings. Looking also at stanza 9, what is the precise nature of the solution he has found to his problems? What clues has Wordsworth given us early on (VERY early on) that this is where we would end up?
5. What do you make of the last four lines of the poem? How can thoughts lie "too deep for tears"?
6. Some critics think that the sensual imagery which permeates the poem borders on symbolism. Do you find the senses used in a consistent way throughout the poem? If the poet is ultimately concerned with "thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears," how do the senses relate to those thoughts? Would Wordsworth say, like Keats, "O for a Life of Sensation rather than of Thought"?
7. "I was often unable to think of external things as having external existence, and I communed with all that I saw as something not apart from, but inherent in, my own immaterial nature. Many times while going to school have I grasped at a wall or a tree to recall myself from this abyss of idealism to the reality." So Wordsworth himself says in his comments on the "Ode." Has he made use of this experience in this or in other poems? Does it in any way explain his penchant for precisely accounting for the circumstances in which he conceived his poems?
8. One of the great mysteries about Wordsworth concerns the abrupt decline of his poetic powers: he wrote almost nothing of any lasting worth after 1805, although he lived for another 45 years. Basil Willey suggests that all along Wordsworth was living on his capital. Can you find anything in this poem which supports that idea?
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000