My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold Grandchildren

Mary Cassatt, "Children Playing on the Beach"

Mary Cassatt, “Children Playing on the Beach”

In my Introduction to Literature class on Monday, I was teaching Wordsworth’s “My heart leaps up when I behold” and my grandchildren leapt to mind. Two weeks ago I spent three days with Esmé and then, this past weekend at my father’s memorial service, I saw them both.

Here’s the poem:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Of course, it’s not hard to be excited about rainbows at any age. But how about a gust of wind? I told my students about my 18-month-old grandson experimenting with wind in an episode filmed by his mother. In the video, Alban repeatedly places a circle of foam padding on a porch railing and then laughs hysterically as the wind blows it off. Once, when the wind is still, he pushes it off himself—and then, in his next attempt, is delighted to see the wind do its work again.

Or how about grass? On a trip to the park, I watched Esmé spend fifteen minutes combing though blades of grass and picking up tiny pieces of gravel. She looked at them, tasted them, felt them. They were no less powerful to her–probably more powerful–than a rainbow would have been.

Wordsworth uses the last three lines of the poem as an epigraph to a more somber poem, “Intimations of Immortality,” where he laments losing his childhood connection with nature. Or as he puts it, “there hath past away a glory from the earth.”

But what he no longer experiences directly, he relives through watching children. He describes a shepherd boy that he sees as “Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might/ Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height.”

Likewise, Esmé and Alban rekindled for me “splendor in the grass” and “glory in the flower.” They led me to “thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”

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  • http://www.therapythroughtolstoy.com Lucy

    This is one of my favourite poems, as one I committed to memory many years back. Thank you for the inspiring analysis – it’s always great to think of poems in personal terms.

    Best wishes,
    Lucy

  • Jason

    Great post, Robin.

    “The rainbow comes and goes / and lovely is the rose” (I may be misremembering “Intimations”) is one of the great ho-hum lines in literature, no?


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