Nostalgia, the Classics, and the Intimations Ode: Wordsworth’s Forgotten Education

Gray, Erik I.

It seems strange, to say the least, to construct a poem around "intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood" when neither the recollection nor the immortality recollected is meant to be credible. Yet despite its anomalies Wordworth's Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood remains captivating and comprehensible because it both describes and conveys nostalgia -- the pleasurable impression that something one has never known is in fact merely forgotten. Nostalgia in this sense is not a Wordsworthian invention but is well-known in a number of contexts. In a more complex form the implication of forgotten knowledge is typical not only of Virgil but of what we call "the classics" in general. In the first part of this essay I discuss how this effect is produced in Virgil and Milton, in order to suggest why the strange sense of familiarity described in the Ode seems strangely familiar. In the second section I discuss the nostalgia associated with what is referred to as a classical education, as evidence that the paradox that Wordsworth illuminates is not solely a literary phenomenon.


Also Published In

Philological Quarterly

More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Department of English, University of Iowa
Published Here
May 4, 2015