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.”

This entry was posted in Wordsworth (William) and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!
  • Twitter Authentication data is incomplete