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The child is father to the man - who first said that?

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The child is father to the man

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'The child is father to the man'?

The proverb 'The child is father to the man' expresses the idea that the character that we form as children stays with us into our adult life.

What's the origin of the phrase 'The child is father to the man'?

William Wordsworth - The child is father to the manThe proverbial expression 'The child is the father of the man' was coined by William Wordsworth in his 1802 poem 'My Heart Leaps Up', which is also known as "The Rainbow.

My Heart Leaps Up

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.

In the poem Wordsworth describes how the things that awakened emotion in him as a child stayed with him as an adult. He hopes that this will continue throughout his life.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 - 1889) wrote a poem on response to Wordsworth's - 'The Child is Father to the Man'. This was printed after Hopkins' death.

The Child is Father to the Man

'The child is father to the man.'
How can he be? The words are wild.
Suck any sense from that who can:
"The child is father to the man.'
No; what the poet did write ran,
'The man is father to the child.'
'The child is father to the man!'
How can he be? The words are wild!

In this, Hopkins plays with the apparent illogicality of the 'child is father to the man' line. He even suggests that what Wordsworth actually wrote was 'The man is father to the child'.

This seems to be just playfulness on Hopkins' part, as is the parallel he made between 'Words worth' and 'words wild'.

See also: the List of Proverbs.