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Can anyone please explain a bit about the meaning of the phrase "trailing clouds of glory"?

Context:

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:

[from William Wordsworth, "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood"]

  • Poetry is not always subject to one correct interpretation; that's part of what makes it interesting. What are the defining characteristics of clouds? In the context of the poem (e.g. the line "The things which I have seen I now can see no more", etc.), do clouds take on a particular significance? It's really up to you; this site has a policy of not discussing poetry. You might want to try Writers.SE. – anongoodnurse Aug 24 '15 at 5:22
  • Are you asking about the meaning of the metaphor or are you asking about the grammatical structure of the final sentence and how the phrase fits into it? – chasly - supports Monica Sep 30 '15 at 10:20
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about poetry interpretation. – curiousdannii Jan 23 '17 at 22:31
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Because the phrase occurs as part of a longer idea—"But trailing clouds of glory do we come/From God, who is our home"—it seems reasonable to conclude that the "we" of the poem have not been following the trail (or track) of God to our current location, but have arrived here as part of a (perhaps temporary) departure from God, identified by Wordsworth as "our [original] home."

Since the quoted lines describe a movement to a new place from an old and familiar one, it makes sense to understand trailing as meaning "leaving in [our] trail"—that is, "leaving behind us as we come into the world and proceed through it." What, precisely, the "clouds of glory" are and how they are manifested to Wordsworth's eye are questions of poetical interpretation and not, strictly speaking, of English language and usage. But Wordsworth seems to assert that we leave these clouds in our wake as we proceed, and that they represent both a kind of memory ("Not in entire forgetfulness") and a kind of raiment ("not in utter nakedness") to comfort the human soul.

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I see this as an explanation of the eternal nature of our life, birth is no more the beginning of our life as death is the end of our life, God is our Father and we lived with him prior to the mortal existence the memory of this pre-mortal life is forgotten hence we come to this earth life not in nakedness, but in glory being children of God, since God is our Father in heaven we come from him and hence being with him is our home.

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The Israelites escaped Egypt, following the Ark of the Covenant. During the night they followed its column of smoke; at night, its fires. I could read the line in either of two ways, depending on the use of "trailing". We could be following the trail of the glory. Or we ourselves could be the source of glory, trailing it behind us as signal to those who follow us. Or, more poetically, probably both readings are similtaneously correct.

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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:

William Wordsworth is a romantic poet. This category of poets dwell on nature, And blend nature with divine mystery and attributes. To understand this I have to explain it line by line within the context of this poem.

NB...Though poems have no one meaning, yet care must be taken not to explain away the meaning as intended by the poet.

  1. In line 1, the poet describes our birth into life as a continuation from elsewhere not mentioned immediately. But this 'birth', is born out of sleep, and forgetfulness; thus we are born as children with utter forgetfulness of ourselves and origin.

  2. This theme of earlier existence prior to our birth is expressed in lines 2 and 3, "the soul that rises with us, our life's star, has elsewhere its setting.

  3. Lines 4 and 5 come up with something positive hope for our seemingly hopeless nature; a life of forgetfulness as expressed in the 1st line. So, the soul...our life's star coming though from afar, yet with some reminiscence of the past life: 'and not in utter forgetfulness' , and line 6 said, 'not in utter nakedness', that is to say, not in utter tabula rasa, we have and contain something of our former lives, we are not erased of everything of our previous life.

  4. line 7 and 8 most succinctly describe that which inheres in us at birth, and this is the trailing clouds of glory that we come from God, who is equally our home. As a christian, the Poet believed that man is created in the image and likeness of God, the glory of God is inhered on man's nature, hence, 'the soul, our life's star is the spiritual part of man, which according to Saint Augustine is restless until it rests in God, 'who is our home' as concluded in line 8.

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