Intimation of Immortality


A melodious and moving setting of Wordsworth’s famous stanzas from his Intimations of Immortality.


A licensed copy is required for each member performing.


A melodious and moving setting of Wordsworth’s famous stanzas from his Intimations of Immortality:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar.

Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.


When I was in grad school, I had my first place on my own.  It was a one-room studio apartment in an old house on a historic street a few blocks from downtown Iowa City.  There was almost no kitchen to speak of, with barely any counter space, and no drawers.  Therefore, I innovated!  I suspended my silverware tray from the cupboard above with fishing line. And, to decorate the end of the plastic tray, I cut out the poem from one of my Celestial Seasonings herbal tea boxes.  I remember it was yellow — mint, I think — and the poem was the two stanzas above from William Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality.

The poetry must have worked on my subconscious over a number of weeks, because one Saturday morning I woke up, and a melody was simply there, ready to roll out.  I don’t remember exactly, but I must have accompanied my singing on the guitar, since I had no piano in the room.

In the early 2000’s when Ryan Harrison and I recorded Holy World: Songs of Grief and Healing, we included a duet version of this song.  Then in 2016, for the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in Greensboro, North Carolina, I wrote the SATB anthem version of the piece, which was premiered by the Annual Conference choir, directed by Jesse Hopkins.

With certain songs that just “come,” as this one did, I don’t feel particularly responsible for the creation.  I just sit back and enjoy how the piece takes shape in its organic, inexorable way.  The Shakers had a term for this kind of creative situation, and called songs with this sort of conception “gift songs.”  I am thankful for the creativity at work in the Celestial Seasonings tea company, that saw fit to include words of inspiration on their tea boxes — without which this song would most likely not exist!

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SATB piano

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