Words you should know
Stanza 1
Who are these shadows
The figures have a
nightmarish quality which is
developed through simple but
strong visual imagery
They ‘hang over you’ and
stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’
which makes them
threatening in number and
intimidating in their stance
No reference is made to
women which also increases
the veiled threat implied by
the shadowy figures. One
possible interpretation of this
might be that male ancestors
have had a greater impact on
his cultural and social identity
That hang over you in a dream-
The bearded, faceless men
Standing shoulder to shoulder?
Stanza 1
Connotation- Nightmare vision. There
is a distinct separation between the
‘you’ and the ‘shadows’ in the poem,
emphasising that the persona is alone
while the ancestors belong to each other
Who are these shadows
That hang over you in a dreamThe bearded, faceless men
Standing shoulder to shoulder?
Alliteration: emphasises that the ancestors belong
Rhetorical question: Highlights the persona’s confusion
about his acnestors and his own identity. This,
combined with the second person pronoun, draws the
responder into the text and we are wondering with the
Adjective: Connotations of
fear, uncertainty, anxiety
Second person pronoun: Draws
the reader into the text
Hyphen: The pause reflects the
breaks in thought as he considers
his uncertainties
Oxymoron: Bearded- age, wisdom.
Faceless- faces are obscured by the dark,
lack of clarity
Stanza 2
The darkness is given a sense
of urgency as his sleep is
broken by whispered secrets.
Nothing is distinct or clear,
developing an atmosphere of
uneasiness. It is a scene we
can identify with, those
disturbing dreams and
nightmares that can come to
us all in the middle of the
Reference is made to the everopen eyes of these figures. We
wonder what they are looking
for and whether their
appearance is a negative or
positive omen. It also leads us
to wonder if these visions are
insightful or apocalyptic
What secrets
Do they whisper into the darkness-
Why do their eyes
Never close?
Stanza 2
Connotations: Incomprehensibility, the
ancestors whisper. Secrets also suggests a
past, untold stories that the persona
cannot access.
What secrets
Do they whisper into the darknessWhy do their eyes
Never close?
Recurring image of darkness:
connotations of fear, anxiety but also
suggests the persona is ‘kept in the
Rhetorical question: reinforces the
nightmarish vision. Image of an oracle
(ancient Rome, woman, prophesy).
Persona feels their omniscience (always
present, always watching when he is
Stanza 3
The ring they form around the
poet is both encircling and yet
directional, their pointing
fingers and footprints leading
elsewhere to undetermined
places. The term ‘ring’
generates a certain feeling of
alarm, as if the sleeping figure
is being entrapped by these
figures from the past
Directions are unclear,
mirroring the unclear quality
of dreams. It also raises the
level of uncertainty and
apprehension (anxieties/
fears) felt by the dreamer
Where do they point to
From the circle around youTo what star
Do their footprints lead?
Stanza 3
Symbolism: Suggests protective
nature (positive) or that the
persona is trapped (negative)
Where do they point to
From the circle around you-
To what star
Do their footprints lead?
Symbolism: Suggestion of divine
quality, a ghostly world that the
persona is struggling to connect to
Connotation: Suggests path,
connection between past, present
and future. Future, destiny,
history and predetermined
Stanza 4
Behind them are
Mountains, the sound of a river,
A moonlit plain
Of grasses and sand.
 These nocturnal visitors are
given by a natural backdrop,
simply described as a
mountain, river, plains,
grasses and sand
 Simple, sensory imagery
describes “the sound of
river” and a “moonlit plain”
giving some idea of place
but not enough to get any
exact location
 It is still a dreamlike
landscape, ill-defined but
strong and worrying
Stanza 4
Prepositional phrase: The persona only
sees from a distance. The place that is
presented as behind the ancestors
suggests that the ancestors have
travelled from a place, reinforces the
idea of history.
Behind them are
Mountains, the sound of a river,
A moonlit plain
Of grasses and sand.
Contrasting imagery: Grasses
(living) sand (dead) a contrast
is created
Enjambment: creates emphasis on
mountain, emphasising the struggles
that the ancestors have had to
Natural imagery: beauty, tranquillity,
situates the ancestors in a place and
time, a homeland. This moves to a
more heavenly image but ultimately the
persona is unable to connect as this is a
movement towards a spiritual
connection that is beyond the personas
Stanza 5
Why do they
We wonder what these
speechless, watchful and
hovering figures ‘wait’ for and
question their purpose
Urgency is created by the use
of hyphen which creates a
pregnant pause in the middle
of the question being asked.
This involves the reader in the
questioning process,
challenging us to respond
from a personal perspective
It appears that these dead
ancestors from the past are
awaiting new members to join
their host, adding
strength/depth to the death
theme earlier developed
Never speak-how long
Is their wait to be?
Stanza 5
Rhetorical question:
Involves the responder
Why do they
Never speak-how long
Is their wait to be?
Hyphen: Indicates waiting. The
ancestors will not speak as it is up to
the persona to overcome his fear of
belonging to their world.
Enjambment: places emphasis on never,
suggesting the personas frustration with the
recurrence of their images without allowing
his insight into their world, purpose.
Connotation: Connects to the idea of the
secrets that ancestors hold. Here the
ancestors never speak because there seems
to be a barrier preventing the persona
from connecting to them. The barrier is
ambiguous, suggesting that it may be the
persona's fear of belonging to the world
of his family and cultural heritage. He
wants their secrets without understanding
their cultural world. Is it his attitude that
prevents him from belonging to them?
Stanza 6
 The nightmare quality is not
relieved by wakefulness
which brings limited relief
Why do you wake
As their faces become clearerYour tongue dry
As caked mud?
 Anxiety remains, for
consciousness ironically
makes their faces disappear
just as they “become
clearer.” They remain
metaphorically out of reach
 The visual intensity of the
simile “dry/As cakes mud”
emphasises the negative
impact of this ancestral
visitation which neither
soothes nor pleases the
Stanza 6
Alliteration: emphasises the change
as he wakes from his dream.
Why do you wake
As their faces become clearerYour tongue dry
Visual imagery: Frustration of
waking just as their faces start to
become clear. This emphasises the
struggle between the two worlds and
that the persona is caught between
the two.
As caked mud?
Sensory imagery: taste- physical
effect of the dream, discomfort.
Simile: heightens the responder’s
awareness of his discomfort and
anxiety about the world that his
ghostly ancestors represent.
Stanza 7
From across the plain
Where sand and grasses never stir
The wind tastes of blood
 This is the only stanza with
three lines instead of four;
this adds to the harsh images
of un-stirring sand, grass
and wind which “tastes of
blood.” The inversion of
typical senses is unexpected
 The reference to the taste of
‘blood’ refers again to the
theme and adds to the
reader’s sense of
nightmarish disorientation
(confusion), mirroring that
felt by the disturbed sleeper
Stanza 7
Prepositional phrase: Ambiguity of
where this is. Contrasts of looking
forward to stanza 4 where the place
was behind the ancestors. Suggests
connection between past and future.
From across the plain
Where sand and grasses never stir
The wind tastes of blood
Repetition of contrast (living vs
dead)- perhaps his inability to be
emotionally moved enough to
commit to their world.
Sensory imagery: taste, touch. The
meaning of this is ambiguous. The
wind could be carrying the blood
that represents their hardships
(bloodshed), blood lines (family).
The wind could also be a means of
time travel, between the past and
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