The Immortality Ode begins with a look back.
Wordsworth prefaces his Ode with a few lines from his earlier poem "My Heart Leaps Up"—lines that deal with the idea that the things people experience in childhood shape their lives as adults. The speaker of that poem—who, like the speaker here, is likely Wordsworth himself—goes on to hope that his whole life can reflect the "natural piety" he felt in childhood (that is, a sort of instinctive, inborn religious awe). That feeling is exactly what his Immortality Ode is about to explore.
"There was a time," this poem's speaker begins, when the whole world seemed to shine for him. Back in his childhood, everything in nature seemed "[a]pparelled in celestial light"—that is, dressed up in a glow that seemed to come from heaven itself. The language here is like something from a fairy tale: it's as if the speaker is saying, "Once upon a time, I lived in a magical land."
But this land was the "common," normal, everyday world. What was different before wasn't the world itself, but how it "seem[ed]" to the speaker. Then, everything had "the glory and the freshness of a dream." To really understand this line, the reader might want to reflect on a wonderful dream they had: think how vivid and memorable a good dream feels, how bright its images are, and how deeply connected you can feel to the pictures your dreams show you. The shining "glory" and "freshness" of that kind of dream was once this speaker's whole world.
Also take note of the word "glory": it's going to be very important, repeating all through this long poem. The word "glory" suggests, not just that the world once seemed to shine with light for the speaker, but that there was something magnificent, awe-inspiring, and holy about that light.
But then, something changed. Now, when the speaker looks around him, that "glory" is gone: the things he once saw he "now can see no more." What changed? He grew up.
This heartbreaking loss will be the central dilemma of this poem. Where, the speaker will wonder, does the special shine of childhood vision come from—and why does it vanish? How can adults resign themselves to life without that "glory"?
The speaker will explore these profound and deeply-felt questions in the form of an ode. Odes don't use a standardized meter or rhyme scheme. Instead, the speaker will allow his verse to grow organically around his ideas and his emotions.
The reader can already see that happening in the rhyme scheme here:
- As the speaker describes his childhood visions in lines 1-5, the rhymes fall into a steady, musical ABABA pattern (that is, alternating lines rhyme).
- But when he describes how things have changed for him in his adult life (lines 6-9), the pattern changes, and his CDDC rhymes seem to "turn" back and forth with him as he looks sadly around for any glimpse of the "glory" he's lost.