Intimations of Immortality, again
In his famous ode “Intimations of Immortality”, William Wordsworth (1770-1850) reflected on the incomparable beauties of nature and the bitter sweetness of human passing. He wrote:
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.
I am made of simpler and less-sensitive stuff, but I did wake up this morning conscious of the aches and pains of advancing years. What came unbidden into my mind was not Wordsworth’s poem but a line from a song popular in my youth: “Oh, Monday morning, you gave me no warning of what was to be.”
“Monday, Monday” was a hit song by the Mamas & the Papas in 1966, when I was eighteen. Wondering why it should come to mind nearly fifty years later, I realized that it is because I am still utterly and incorrigibly astonished by the fact that I have grown old.
Each and every day of our lives we grow and age, and we know we are doing so. Yet when we find ourselves old, we are constantly surprised—just as if we really have had no warning at all. And why? Because our own intuition tells us what has happened is actually impossible.
Unlike any other embodied beings, we humans routinely consider our identities to be imperishable. No matter what our analytical powers tell us, we recognize ourselves at each stage as simply ourselves: Not as a series of different personas operating through time, but simply as who we “are”.
“Before Abraham was, I am,” said Jesus Christ. And despite our own beginnings in time, self-reflection has always told us that we now simply “are” as well. Each of us is instinctively transcendent. Each of us is firmly rooted in immortality.
Such is the self-understanding of a spiritual nature that does not measure itself in years.
See also my longer essay from 2010, also entitled Intimations of Immortality.
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