Trailing Clouds of Glory


img_0114When my 4-year-old (almost) grandson, Atticus, plays, I feel younger. Simply watching him play, or—better! —playing dinosaurs with him on the floor, or planting “carnivorous plant” seeds in a plastic terrarium, reduces my felt age by decades. For him, every thing and every day is a wonder. Frustrations, trials and worries are things for later years—for my years. What has happened to me? What have I lost?

William Wordsworth wrote one of my favorite poems on this very question. In “Intimations of Immortality,” he recalls that, as a child,

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

The earth, and every common sight

                 To me did seem

           Apparelled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore—

This glory and lightheartedness of childhood, once so very strong, had faded. Considering our origin from the realms of glory, it is no surprise that, as children, we see with a different sort of vision:

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

               From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

But this loss, this former simple delight is not a cause for sentimental longing. True: we should see the world with a deep sense of wonder, but the carefree nature of childhood changes into a strength, a sympathy, an understanding, and a faith that conquers the fears to come.

What though the radiance which was once so bright

Be now for ever taken from my sight,

     Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

         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,

In years that bring the philosophic mind.

For me, the most vivid memory of this poem is the heart-wrenching movie, A River Runs Through It. In that movie two sons—one younger, rebellious, adventurous and almost child-like in his love of the world, the other, older, quieter, more contemplative, perhaps older than he appears to be—struggle to be understood by their father, and to understand each other. In a brilliant bit of foreshadowing, the older son enters his home to hear his father reading these lines, which they then recite to each other. The movie will resolve on that great theme: the passing of youth, the reflections of the aged.

To see the movie clip, click here. The poem starts at 8:20 in this segment.