The Intelligible Ode: Intimations of Paradise

By Graham Davidson

Imagination and immortality in one of Wordsworth’s most controversial poems, examined afresh in the context of Cambridge Platonism.

ISBN: 9780718896430


From its first publication, what is now known as the Immortality Ode has been praised for the magnificence of its verse and disparaged for its paucity of meaning – the ‘immortality’ of the subtitle unsubstantiated, and the ‘recollections’ insubstantial. Yet Wordsworth’s idea of immortality has clear precedents in the seventeenth century, and recollections of childhood are Traherne’s starting point for the recovery of a lost vision comparable to Wordsworth’s. Via the power of the imagination, or reason, they believed they could experience a renewed vision that both termed variously Paradise, or infinity, or immortality.

Graham Davidson traces the origins of Wordsworth’s poetic impetus to his resistance to the Cartesian division between mind and nature, first adumbrated by the Cambridge Platonists. If reunited, Paradise was regained, but this personal trajectory was tempered by a deep sympathy for the woes of mortal life. Davidson explores the consequent dialogue through some of Wordsworth’s best-known poems, at the heart of which is the Ode. In the last section, he demonstrates how Wordsworth’s publishing history led the Victorians and modernists to misinterpret his work; if one considers Eliot’s Four Quartets as odes, facing several of the same problems as did Wordsworth, there is some irony in Eliot’s dismissal of the Immortality Ode as ‘verbiage’.

Additional information

Dimensions 254 × 156 mm
Pages 282


Trade Information LPOD

About the Author

Graham Davidson was the editor of The Coleridge Bulletin for twenty-five years, to which he contributed regularly. He has also published in The Charles Lamb Bulletin, The Wordsworth Circle, Romanticism, and The Philological Quarterly. He has made contributions to Coleridge’s Assertion of Religion, Coleridge in the West Country, The Bible in English Literature and Revisioning Cambridge Platonism. His first book, Coleridge’s Career, was published in 1990.




Part I. Patterns
1. A Philosophical Framework: Understanding the Intelligible
2. Expostulation and Reply: The Tables Turned
3. Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey
4. Geometry, Poetry and the Sublime of Man

Part II. Principles
5. Intimations
6. Recollections

Part III. A Crisis: The Poems of 1802
7. Several Kinds of Poem
8. Heaven and Earth

Part IV. Reading the Ode
9. Origins
10. Verse, Grammar and Imagery
11. Competing Forces
12. Stanzas I-IV: The Statement of Loss
13. Stanzas V-VIII: The Analysis of Loss
14. Stanzas IX-X: Recovery
15. Stanza XI: Resolution

Part V. Looking Forward into History
16. Poems Published and Unpublished
17. What if? A Counterfactual Reading