My Heart Leaps up when I Behold by William Wordsworth: Summary and Critical Analysis

The very short poem My Heart Leaps up when I Behold consisting of 9 lines only was written on March 26, 1802 and published in 1807 as an epigraph to 'Ode: Intimations of Immortality', by William Wordsworth. The poet shows the everlasting influence of nature oh him from his childhood. He says when he sees the rainbow in the sky, his heart starts beating and he feels immense pleasure.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

He connects his life with nature, stating that the rainbow was there when he was an infant, it is there when he is young and the beautiful rainbow will be there in his old age too. He wishes to die if he did not see the rainbow and the natural phenomenon. Whenever he looks at the rainbow, his innocent and enchanting childhood comes back to his memory and he feels revived.

The seventh line shows the central idea of the poem: "The Child is father of the Man." The present is the outcome of the past, so naturally the future will be the outcome of the present. The last two lines show a happy mood of relaxation that is life tied with deep respect for nature, after getting consolation from the ideas of continuity. A man today was a child yesterday and a child today will be a man tomorrow. From childhood begins manhood. The poet wishes to pass his days as a continuous chain showing deep respect for nature. We generally suppose that the man is the father, not the child. So this line looks like a paradox. But the poet wants to say that from the childhood begins the manhood. Yesterday’s child is today’s man and today’s child is tomorrow’s man. Here the word “father” means “one from whom something begins”. So from childhood begins manhood.

This paradoxical line ‘the child is the father of man’ is often quoted because of its capacity to express a complicated idea in so few words. The speaker, in the poem, considers that children are closer to heaven and God. So, they are free from all the impurities and vices of adults. In this poem, the poet uses present, past and future tenses. He uses the present tense to express his present happiness, his present manhood and the theme of the poem and his wish. He uses the past tense to say that there was a rainbow in the sky when he was born. He uses the future to talk about this old age. As natural events are continuous, so is the time. To show the continuity of time he uses the past tense, the present tense, and the future tense.

On the surface, “My Heart Leaps up when I Behold” is about the simple beauty of a rainbow that we perceive normally in our daily life. But, an implicit study of the poem vividly shows that the poet is saying that people should maintain their pure sense of childlike curiosity well into adulthood and old age too. He focuses on the symbol of ‘rainbow’, which stand, for him, as a divine, and he thinks it should be for everyone.

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Sharma, K.N. "My Heart Leaps up when I Behold by William Wordsworth: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 20 Nov. 2013,