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POEMS 2019 IGCSE (1)

In Praise of Creation by Elizabeth
The speaker of this poem, In Praise of Creation, is in awe of creation. That much is quite
obvious. However, the speaker is deliberately vague about why nature is so inspiring and
awesome, in the truest sense of the word. While some attribute the order and detail of
creation to a creator, others attribute it to chance. The fact that the speaker uses the word
“creation” in the title, suggests her belief that something or someone intelligent is behind
the order and wonder of nature. However, she does not delve into that aspect of creation
with her poem. She simply stands in awe of all that creation is, from the sky above, to the
tiger, down the mating rituals of the birds. The speaker finds it all unspeakably awe
In Praise of Creation Analysis
Stanza 1
The speaker notices the small things in creation that have caused her to stand in awe of it.
She has studied “that one bird” and the “one star” for long enough to acknowledge that the
beauty and wonder behind one tiny little bird is too much for her mind to comprehend. She
realizes that the light from one star travelling from millions of light years away, is enough
to cause her to stand in complete awe of the universe. She then refers to “the one flash of
the tiger’s eye”. She finds the tiger to be a specimen truly unique and fascinating. One flash
of his eye reveals the intricate and complicated nature of creation. The speaker claims that
these parts of the earth and the universe “clearly assert what they are”. She does not
explicitly claim that they assert a creator. Nor does she deny one. Rather, she claims that
the bird, the star, and the tiger in themselves assert what they are, and by their very natures
testify to what they are. There need be no ceremony. Rather, they testify by simply doing
what is in their nature for them to do.
Stanza 2
The speaker continues to explain the claims she implicitly made in the first stanza. She
claims that what these magnificent parts of creation testify to, is “order” and “rule”. This
seems to give the implication that nature does not lend itself well to the idea of it’s being
there due to chance, but rather demands the idea of order and rule. She goes on to explain
that the way “the birds mate at one time only” and “how the sky is…full of birds” are all
signs that there is an incredible about of order and rule in creation. She is amazed at the
changes of the moon, and the way that it is “sometimes cut thinly” and other times is full.
This indirectly reveals her awe at the way the universe is set up so that the moon orbits the
earth and the earth the sun in such a way that to the human eye, it seems that sometimes the
moon is “cut thin”. The fact that the birds mate at only one time also strikes the speaker
fascinating. If mating is something instinctual, why do the birds wait until a certain time of
year? All of the speaker’s observations re-iterate her awe at the order and rule that seems to
exist in the universe, from the moon, to the birds in the sky, the speaker marvels at the way
the earth and universe function.
Stanza 3
With this stanza, the speaker finds it amazing that an animal as dangerous as a tiger comes
with a visible warning sign. She sees the tiger’s stripes as a type of cage, warning other
animals of the dangerous nature of this beast. Yet, though it is a dangerous animal, it still is
“watchful over creation” as though it plays a very important role in the way that nature
functions. The speaker then describes the way the tiger rests and waits “for the blood to
pound” and “the drums to begin” The language used here reveals that something intense is
about to happen, though the speaker does not yet reveal what that is. She simply says that
the tigress will cast a shadow.
Stanza 4
With this stanza, the speaker gives further detail concerning this event. She describes the
way the shadow of the tigress would fall over the tiger, and there would be “a passion” and
“a scent”. It is clear now that the speaker is referring the mating of the tiger and the tigress.
In the midst of the mating of these two magnificent creatures, the world seems to go
“turning, turning”. This language, quite obviously, reflects that of William Butler Yeats in
one of his most famous poems, The Second Coming, in which Yeats seems to suggest that
the world is spinning out of control. The speaker in this poem, however, uses similar
language to convey a meaning just the opposite. She seems to see the world as maintaining
order, and the mating of the two powerful beasts suggests not that the world is spinning out
of control, but rather that it continues to turn in uniform, as it was created to do, allowing
the seasons to change and time to go on. This, the speaker suggests, “sieves earth to its one
sure element”. The speaker does not directly reveal what this “one sure element” is, but the
next line suggests that mating practices of all of creations’ beings are that “one sure
element”. She claims that when the tiger and tigress meet for mating, “the blood beats
beyond reason”. This is an interesting line, because throughout the rest of the poem, the
speaker seems to evaluate creation, seeking reasoning behind the seeming order and rule of
nature. However, here she admits that when it comes to mating, the “blood beats beyond
reason” and one simply cannot understand the nature of it.
Stanza 5
After the mating is done, the speaker describes the “quiet” and the way the “birds [are]
folding their wings”. She notices that after the few minutes of mating, “the new moon” still
sits there, as it was, “waiting for years to be stared at here”. Once the mating has taken
place, “The season sinks to satisfied things” and leaves man, once again, “with his mind
ajar”. The speaker’s description of this mating reveals some parallels to what is likely
personal experience, and thus, a human sexual experience. The use of the word “man” at
the end of the poem further suggests this view. Thus far, man has not been mentioned in the
poem. The speaker simply reflects upon nature and all of creation. At the end of the poem,
after her description of the mating of the tiger and tigress as something which is “beyond
reason” she mentions another human being whose mind is left “ajar”. This suggests the idea
that even the instinctual act of sexual intercourse with another human being is subject to
order and rule, and that even though it is an act that seems “beyond reason” it still leaves
people with their minds open, pondering life, humanity, and creation just as the speaker
does throughout this poem.
Philip Larkin – Coming – Summary
and Analysis
Philip Larkin – Coming – Summary
The poet speaks of the long winter with its chill and long evenings. The day seems longer
for everyone in their houses. Then, a thrush sings indicating the arrival of spring. The voice
of the bird astonishes those inside the houses who cheer about the coming of spring. The
poet feels like a child who has forgotten his boring childhood. He tries to reconcile his past
life with his adult life with the spring. But, he understands nothing about his childhood but
laughs without any intention and feels happy.
Philip Larkin – Coming – Analysis
The poem consists of nineteen [19] lines without metre or rhyme and is not written in the
form of stanzas. In general, Larkin’s poetry contains pessimism while dealing with different
subjects. However, the speaker in the poem feels happy to hear the song of the thrush and at
the arrival of spring and the end of winter. The human psychology is well paralleled with
the change of seasons. In winter, chill and long evenings bathe the houses the spring
astonishes the “brickwork” reverberated by the voice of the thrush.
The poem shifts to the view point of the speaker who anticipates the advent of spring. The
phrase – “It will be spring soon” is repeated twice to give impetus to the joy of the speaker.
This kind of reiterating is done by children who feel happy or when playing. The poet
cleverly confesses that he is trying to reconcile with the child within. As an adult, he cannot
remember the days of joy and feels that his childhood is monotonous. He cannot come to a
reconciling moment but feels happy for no reason. Despite the absence of understanding,
which is a bit pessimistic, Philip Larkin creates an emotional mixture of hope, joy and
optimism with the ending.
Overall, Philip Larkin produces a memorable poem with the song of the thrush, astonishing
brickwork, unusual laughter and happy beginnings. Coming is a simple yet wonderfully
meaningful poem that is Universal and can be connected with every human.
The Poem "London Snow" (1890)
by Robert Bridges: An Analysis
Synopsis of London Snow by Robert Bridges
The title the poem is explicit. What the reader is about to experience is an impression of
snowfall in London.
Lines 1-9
The first line locates the poem in time and place - it tells us what happened and when; in a
city (London, as we know from the title), there was an overnight snowfall. This was not a light
sprinkling of snow: An image of a blizzard is immediately conjured by the choice of the word
flying as an adverb to qualify the past tense verb came.
Snow blurs sharp lines and boundaries "making unevenness even". The use of the present
perfect progressive tense for a large number of verbs (ending in ing) is notable - this tense
suggests that something that started in the past continues in the present and may continue into
the future. The snow is unstoppable.
The use of the adverb stealthily tends to personify the snow in the mind of the reader - the
passage in its entirety is suggestive that the snow has a life and a purpose.
Lines 10-12 continue the idea of personification in that when the snow had reached a depth of
seven inches it seems to have accomplished its objective and so "The clouds blew off" as if as
a deliberate choice.
Lines 13-15 introduce the reader to the initial impact of the snow on the residents of the town.
The unusual brightness of the morning caused them to wake earlier than usual to a "strange
unheavenly glare". The choice of the adjective unheavenly is unusual - the glare of the snow is
certainly the opposite of heavenly insofar as it is on the earth and therefore earthly, but there
seem to be an implication that the snow is not a God-send.
Lines 16-19 describe the impact of the snow on the sounds of the town. Every sound has been
Lines 19-24 are about the impact of snow on touch, taste and sight, described in the reaction
of schoolboys to the unusual phenomena; they catch ice-cold crystals on their tongues, make
snowballs, dive into deep drifts and, gazing upwards, admire the effect that the snow has had
on the trees.
Lines 25-27 describe the inconvenient effect of the snow upon carts transporting goods from
the countryside. The loads have needed to be less heavy in order for those that have risked
making a journey to "blunder" along deserted roads.
Lines 28-37 It is on line 29 that, through the reference to "Paul's high dome", that the only
reference to London is made.The morning sunlight has triggered a thaw and the townspeople
bestir themselves. They "wage war" with the challenges that the weather has made. Countless
workers tread brown slushy paths through the snow. But even those normally thinking about
their work and worries are this morning diverted by the beauty of what they see.
Form of the Poem London Snow by Robert Bridges
Bridges was a classicist. He rejected contemporary trends and modernism in poetry in favour
of a more accessible, readily understood, style that is apparent in the lovely poem, London
The poem is presented as a single stanza of thirty-seven lines. The effect that this
produces is one of a self-contained unbroken chain of events, started by snowfall that
persists through the night.
There are three end stops in the poem - at lines 9, 24 and 30 (plus the final stop at line
37). The stops indicate a brief pause in the narrative.
By enjambing across the points where some poets might have chosen to create stanza
breaks, Bridges has created a flow through the poem, mirroring the unremitting, lengthy,
The length of the lines ranges from eleven syllables to seventeen syllables and the metre
is irregular, creating a poem with a rhythm that resembles the rhythm of speech.
The Caged Skylark by Gerard Manley
In the sonnet, The Caged Skylark, Hopkins makes an elaborate comparison between the
human spirit and a skylark. There are two stages of this comparison: in the octave the
human spirit of a living human being is compared to a caged skylark; in the sestet the
human spirit of the same human being, when resurrected after death, is compared to a free
Theme of The Caged Skylark
Man has a spirit which aspires upwards, which rises to soar to heaven but is kept back by
the prison of the body, just as a skylark, imprisoned in a cage, finds it impossible to fly
upwards to the sky. The skylark, who is free, sings gaily and, when tired, drops to rest in
his own nest (not in any cage). The human spirit, too, will be glorified and attain
immortality after the death and resurrection of the individual. Thus, the theme of the poem
is Resurrection. Similar to the caged skylark, the human individual reacts against his
confines, aspires above them, and is frustrated by them. But after Resurrection the
individual will no longer feel encumbered by the flesh or the body.
Before we start with the poem, let me tell you that the idea of the spirit being a prisoner in
the body was a familiar one during the Renaissance. In John Webster’s play, The Duchess
of Malfi, there is a passage with which the octave of this sonnet shows a striking similarity:
“Didst thou ever see a lark in a cage? Such is the soul in the body: this world is like her
little turf of grass, and the heaven over our heads, like her looking-glass, only gives us a
miserable knowledge of the small compass of our prison.”
Besides, this poem is also said to be personal allegory of Hopkins’s life which was
restricted and cramped by his routine duties and by the constant frustration of his creative
impulse. The religious life to which he had dedicated himself placed a great mental strain
upon him. He never wavered in his devotion, but he had to pay heavily for it.
He suffered terrible fits of depression and the torments of self-disgust which came upon
him from time to time.
All this is reflected in the following lines in the present poem: “This in drudgery, daylabouring-out life’s age./ Yet both droop deadly sometimes in their cells/Or wring their
barriers in bursts of fear or rage.”
The Caged Skylark Analysis
As a dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage,
Man’s mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells —
That bird beyond the remembering his free fells;
This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life’s age.
In the poem, The Caged Skylark, the poet compares the spirit of man to a caged skylark,
which though possessing the courage to face a storm, may be confined within the bars of a
dull cage, so the spirit of man, which has the courage to soar to heaven, is confined within
the dwelling of the body which is a mean house of bones. Further, just as the skylark can no
longer remember the time of his freedom to fly over the wild mountain scenery, so the
spirit of man endures the drudgery of a slave, spending his long life on earth toiling and
Though aloft on turf or perch or poor low stage
Both sing sometímes the sweetest, sweetest spells,
Yet both droop deadly sómetimes in their cells
Or wring their barriers in bursts of fear or rage.
Continuing the comparison, the poet now says that there are times when both the man and
the skylark, despite their confinement, experience a secret joy and sing the sweetest songs,
the skylark sitting aloft on the turf-covered floor of the cage or on its perch in the cage,
and the man below on the poor, humble stage of this world.
But there are also times when both the man and the bird experience the weight of this
weary world and droop as though in death, or else they grow desperate in their efforts to
break out of their prison, with alternating outbursts of fear and anger.
Not that the sweet-fowl, song-fowl, needs no rest —
Why, hear him, hear him babble & drop down to his nest,
But his own nest, wild nest, no prison.
The poet then turns his attention to a skylark that is free. In spite of his freedom, this
singing bird too needs rest sometimes. After this bird has babbled his song up there in the
sky, he must drop down to his nest. What makes all the difference, however, is that the free
bird can rest in his own nest, amid the wildness of Nature, not in a cage where he would be
deprived of his freedom.
Man’s spirit will be flesh-bound, when found at best,
But uncumberèd: meadow-down is not distressed
For a rainbow footing it nor he for his bónes rísen.
The poet, in this last stanza of the poem, says that in the same way, the human spirit, in the
final state of resurrection, will be bound by flesh, for such is man’s nature (composed of
body and soul). But then man will feel no hindrance from the flesh just as the down or fluff
of dandelions, growing to seed in a meadow, feels no weight from a rainbow. The ‘bones
risen’ or the resurrected human body is compared to the down in a meadow, while the
human spirit is compare to a rainbow.)
Imagery used in The Caged Skylark
The aptness and vividness of images presented in this poem must also be admitted. The
comparison made by the poet in the poem of the soul being held a prisoner in the body with
a skylark held as a prisoner in a cage is most appropriate, though not new or original. The
disparagement of the earthly life of human beings is expressed in forceful language. ‘This
is drudgery, day-labouring-out life’s age.’
The picture of a free skylark ‘babbling’ his gay songs and then dropping into his nest for
rest is vividly presented. The metaphor with which the poem closes is, however, somewhat
elusive because it contains an unfamiliar image; ‘meadow-down is no distressed/For a
rainbow footing.’
Use of Words and Phrases in The Caged
The phrase “dare-gale” has been coined on the analogy of “dare-devil”. The phrase
“beyond the remembering” is intended to convey the sense of “unable to remember any
longer” or “forgetful of”. The word “spells” has been used to mean “magically sweet
melodies or songs”. “When found at best” is to be interpreted as referring to the resurrected
human life. “For his bones risen” too means the same thing. All such usages create
difficulties for the reader, though the poet’s daring in this regard cannot be doubted.
The Sea Eats the Land At Home by
Kofi Awoonor
The Sea Eats the Land at Home is a poem by Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor. The poem is
four stanzas long of varying line length. The first three stanzas are similar, four to five lines
each. But the last stanza is eighteen lines long, a drawn out conclusion to the poem. The
poem has no rhyme scheme but does utilize a good amount of repetition and
personification. The sea is the main character in this piece and is described throughout as if
it is making considered choices.
Summary of The Sea Eats the Land At
This poem is a story of a simple town through which sweeps the anger of a personified sea.
The sea eats up the town and all the belongings of those that reside in it. The poem focuses
on the general loss of the town but then zooms in on two women who have different
experiences with the loss they go through. One, Aku, has lost everything and is left in the
cold in what used to be her her kitchen, and Adena, who has lost the trinkets that were her
dowry. The poem concludes by saying that the sea that eats the land will eat anything,
nothing is off limits. You can read the full poem here.
First Stanza
The Sea Eats the Land at Home begins with a line that is as evocative as it’s title,
At home the sea is in the town,
Immediately this brings to the surface images of water running down streets and flooding
houses. Perhaps it has gone even farther than that and the town is more sea than streets and
buildings. The reader is given more information about the extent of the damage in the next
line. The sea is said to be,
…running in and out of the cooking places,
One can assume that this is a reference to interior kitchens but also areas out of doors in
which bonfires and cooking fires are lit. This strange phrase, “cooking places,” supports
this conclusion, if the “places” were only indoors they would be called kitchens.
The firewood from the hearths of the “cooking places” is said to be collected up by the sea.
It is at this point that the personification begins. The sea does not sweep up, or wash away
the wood, it is said to pick it up. As if the sea was in possession of arms and hands capable
of this motion. After collecting the wood the sea sends it back “at night.” It has been
washed away and then washes back in with the tide. The sea, personified once more,
“sends” it back. This first stanza is concluded with a repetition of the title line.
Second Stanza
The second stanza begins with the start of the story. How the sea came “one day at the dead
of night.” Awoonor writes this line as if it was a conscious choice made by the sea to come
at night. The sea is given reasoning abilities, it is portrayed as being sneaking, knowing
when the residents of the town will be more vulnerable.
The sea destroys the cement walls, proof of its immense strength, and carries away the
fowl. Their homes are destroyed and their livestock is killed. The sea does not stop there
but as it washes into the cooking places it takes the pots and ladles too. Once more the title
line is repeated at the conclusion of this stanza.
Third Stanza
The third stanza begins with a description of the emotion that comes with this kind of loss.
The speaker describes the sadness of the wails, and how the “mourning shouts “ of women
can be heard. The speaker says these shouts are to the gods to protect them,
…from the angry sea.
Again the sea is personified. It is given sentience and is said to be “angry.” But just as the
motives of the sea are impossible to determine, so too is the response of the gods. They do
not come to the aid of this town, in fact, their plight is only emphasized.
Fourth Stanza
The fourth and final stanza of this poem is more than twice the length of the other three. In
it, a specific woman is named, Aku. The description of how she was personally impacted
by the “sea eat[ing] the land” forces the reader to greater empathy with the town in general.
Until now the town was just unnamed, but now it has a face.
Aku stood outside where her cooking-pot stood,
With her two children shivering from the cold,
She stands outside in the inclement weather, with no where else to go. She is standing in
what was probably her kitchen, a place that used to be symbolic of warmth and home, and
is now part of the freezing sea. She is not alone here though, she has the burden of two
children to care for. She weeps with her hands on her chest for her home, and for the future
of her family.
She does not understand why this has happened to her, it seems to her that her,
…ancestors have neglected her,
They should be watching over her and her family but for some reason have allowed the sea
to destroy her home. Her gods, too, have abandoned her. She is spiritually alone.
The speaker then pans out from the situation and looks over the whole town once more and
the reader receives some additional context.
Once more the day is said to be cold. But we know now it is morning, perhaps only the
morning right after the storm, and it’s a Sunday.
The storm is described as “raging,” and the livestock is placed by the speaker in the water,
they are struggling to swim against the sea.
Once again the sea is personified, described as being angry, but now also cruel. As if it, on
purpose, swept into this town with the intention to destroy it.
The poem then turns to describing the water, how it is lapping against the shore and how its
interior hum, its life force and power, is stronger and louder than the sobs, and deep low
moans of the townspeople.
The poem concludes with continued emphasis on what physically as lost. Another woman
is named, Adena. She has lost her dowry, much of which were “trinkets.” These trinkets are
described as being her joy, turning the poem to a rare glimpse of materialism. The last two
lines describes,
…the sea that eats the land at home,
as eating the “whole land at home.” Nothing and no one is left untouched. Some lose
trinkets, others lose entire homes and lively hoods.
The Poplar Field: William Cowper - Summary and
Critical Analysis
The poplars are cut down and we don’t get here any shade and the sound of the wind. They
used to grow along River Ouse and we could see their reflection in the water, but now there is
nothing to see. The poet once used to sit under the trees. Now he sits on them. The trees are
no longer standing. They are lying on the grass.
He used to hear the blackbirds singing. Now they have flown away. He can’t hear their sweet song.
His years are passing very quickly and one day he will have to die and lie in this grave. But other trees
will not have grown in their places by then. This sight makes him think that human enjoyments are
shorter than short human life.
The poem 'The Poplar Field' shows the poet’s affiliation towards nature in rural life, which is remarkable
for his celebration of the rural and nostalgic tone. The poet strongly rejects the sinful deeds to the natural
resources especially the poplar trees in this poem. The poet is in favor of afforestation to maintain
ecological balance. Deforestation is really a great challenge to the world and it has affected the poet
emotionally. The poet has visited the bank of the Ouse River after 12 years where he used to play under
the shadow of the beautiful poplar trees.
The poet sentimentally recalls that the cutting down poplar trees causes the adverse impact in human
life. This poem is a satire to the present human civilization that has become the curse for the protection
of natural resources. The poem is particular about the deforestation and destruction of the poplar fields in
the bank of the Ouse River in England which has resulted in the disappearances of the shade and the
whispering sound. It has also lost the shelter for blackbird which used to make the environment
melodious by their songs. The poet has missed everything in his twelve years time. He neither sees the
reflections of the trees in the river water nor the wind playing with the leaves of the trees. The poet
recalls that it was his favorite place to stay which provide him shades, but now he regrets that they are
laid down on the grounds.
The poet shows his deep rooted sympathy upon the creatures from the trees such as blackbirds. As the
trees are cut down, the blackbird has gone to another place. Likewise their melodious chirping and sweet
booming songs that charmed the poet most has also gone.
Finally, the poet laments and regrets about the temporary pleasures and ecstasies of human being like of
the poplar trees in the bank of Ouse River. The poet’s point is to highlight the short human life which
cultivates the pleasure seeking tendency of becoming selfish towards nature.
Ode on Melancholy by John Keats: Summary and
The poem Ode on Melancholy embodies one of Keats' greatest insights into the nature of
human experience. Here, the two conflicting domains of experience manifest as joy and
melancholy. The poem has an abrupt beginning, which reads like a conclusion after a long
mental conflict of the speaker. The poem in fact had one stanza before the present first stanza,
and so also the present poem begins like a drama of thoughts in medias res; the conflict has
brought the speaker to a phase of resolution where he begins by declaring his understanding
of the dialectics.
Lines 1-2
No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf's-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
The poem starts with a repeated denial or rejection—the speaker repeats "No, no!"
as though he's telling us that we're doing something wrong.
(Fun fact! Earlier drafts of the poem included a stanza before this one, so the "No,
no" that opens it actually came in response to something that had already been said.
Check out the "Best of the Web" section for more information on this deleted
stanza, and tell us why you think Keats might have taken it out…)
The speaker tells us not to go to "Lethe," which is the river of forgetfulness in
Greek mythology. According to myth, any contact with the water of the River Lethe
would make you forget all of your earthly cares and troubles.
While that might sound like a good deal, our speaker doesn't want us to forget our
troubles. Okay, got it.
The speaker also tells us not to "twist" the roots of "wolf's-bane" for its "poisonous
No, he's not talking about the "wolfsbane potion" in Harry Potter that keeps you
from becoming a dangerous werewolf. The speaker's referring to the wolfsbane
flower, which is poisonous in large doses, but which is used in tiny quantities as an
analgesic or mild pain reliever in some traditional medicines and herbal remedies.
We can't quite tell whether the speaker is warning us not to use wolfsbane as a
poison to end pain forever, or whether he's advising against the use of wolfsbane in
small quantities as a pain reliever. Either way, though, it's clear that he doesn't want
us messing around with plants or herbs to deal with our troubles.
Lines 3-5
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss'd
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
The speaker also advises against taking nightshade to relieve our pain. Nightshade
is also a poisonous plant, but like wolfsbane, it can be beneficial as a medicine in
small doses. So again, the speaker's meaning can be read in at least two ways: we
shouldn't poison ourselves to end our suffering, but we also shouldn't try to relieve
it using medicine.
The speaker makes another allusion to Greek mythology here when he calls
nightshade the "ruby grape of Proserpine."
Let's pause for a cultural side note: Proserpine (a.k.a. Persephone) was the daughter
of Demeter, the Greek goddess of fertility and growing things (she's an important
goddess to farmers, for obvious reasons).
When Hades, the god of the underworld, kidnapped Proserpine and took her to the
land of the dead to be his wife, Demeter was so distraught that all living plants on
earth died. This wasn't so good for the earth, so the other gods intervened and
worked out a compromise: Proserpine would stay with Hades in the underworld for
six months out of each year, and would return to her mother on earth for the other 6
And this, according to Greek mythology, is where seasons come from: when
Proserpine is in the underworld, her mother is in mourning and we get winter. When
Proserpine comes back, it's spring again. So this is a myth about new life and
regeneration, and not just about death and sadness. Go check out the "Symbols,
Imagery, Wordplay" section for more on why this allusion to Proserpine is
particularly appropriate in this poem.
And speaking of the poem, let's get back to it.
Check out the two references to wine or grapes in these lines. The speaker doesn't
come out and say it, but maybe he's implying that we shouldn't use wine or other
alcohol to dull our pain, either.
The speaker also advises us not to make our rosaries, or our prayer beads, out of
yew berries. Yew is traditionally associated with mourning, but—you guessed it—
they are also extremely poisonous.
Okay, speaker, we get it—we shouldn't poison ourselves to escape from our trouble.
That's just plain good advice.
Lines 6-7
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, […]
The speaker continues to advise us of what not to do when we feel down in the
dumps, but this next one is pretty tricky, so let's take some time to tease it out.
First let's look at the "beetle" and "death-moth," and then we'll figure out what he's
saying about them.
Shmoopers, it's time for another ancient mythology side note. The beetle may be a
reference to ancient Egyptian mythology in which the beetle was regarded as a
sacred symbol of resurrection—scarab beetles were placed in tombs. Scarabs were
associated with Khepri, the god of the rising sun, which represented new life.
Ancient Egyptians believed that scarab beetles were able to generate themselves
from nothing, since this species of beetle is hatched inside balls of dung without
obvious parents.
Okay, so the beetle seems to be associated with transformation, renewal, and
resurrection. What about that death-moth?
Here's a biology side note. The death-moth, or the death's-head moth, is a common
name for the Acherontia atropos. It got the nickname—and the reputation for being
an omen of death—because of the pattern on its body that looks like a human skull.
The moth, like the beetle, is often seen as a symbol for transformation and
resurrection, since (as we all know from having read The Very Hungry
Caterpillar as little kids), caterpillars transform into moths or butterflies.
Okay, so we've got two possible symbols for resurrection and transformation in this
line, both of which are associated with death in some way. The speaker tells us that
we shouldn't let them "be our mournful Psyche."
Psyche is the ancient Greek root word in "psychology" and "psychic"—it means the
"mind" or the "spirit" or "soul." In other words, we shouldn't allow our minds and
souls to become transformed by sorrow or to become obsessed with these traditional
symbols of death.
But why does he say "Psyche" instead of "soul" or "mind"? Well, "Psyche" has
another meaning, too, which means it's time for another mythology side note.
In Greek myth, Psyche was the human lover of Cupid, the son of Aphrodite, the
goddess of love. Psyche was married to Cupid without knowing who he was, but
was warned never to look at her husband's face when he visited her at night.
She disobeyed (hard to blame her), and as a punishment, Aphrodite made Psyche
perform a series of cruel and difficult tasks.
Cupid pleaded their case to the rest of the gods, who told Aphrodite to back off and
allowed Psyche to become an immortal.
The story ends happily, with Psyche and Cupid reunited as equals.
So when the speaker refers to a "mournful Psyche," he could be alluding to the part
of the story when Psyche is abandoned and forced to perform penance for having
dared to look at her immortal husband.
On the surface, the speaker is telling us not to become obsessed with symbols of
death, but we should also be aware of the fact that both the beetle and the deathmoth are also associated with transformation and resurrection—and the myth of
Psyche does end happily.
What's up with that? Perhaps the speaker is trying to suggest—in a very subtle
way—that death and mourning can often be transformed into new life and
happiness? What do you think?
Lines 7-8
[…] nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
The speaker adds that we shouldn't allow the owl—another traditional symbol of
death—to become the "partner" of our sorrow.
Again, we're not supposed to become too attached to symbols of sadness. Okay,
okay, Keats—we get the point.
Lines 9-10
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.
Finally, the speaker explains why we're not supposed to look for relief from our
sorrow from forgetfulness, drugs, or suicide, and why we're not supposed to obsess
too much over traditional symbols of sorrow or death. It's because doing those
things would "drown" our soul's anguish.
But wait a second. Wouldn't it be a good thing to drown our sorrows? Wouldn't
we want to make ourselves feel better, if we could? Why does he say this is bad?
The key word here is "wakeful"—the speaker wants us to be alert and aware of our
own anguish. We're supposed to acknowledge it, and not try to cover it up with
medicine or other means.
This seems like a good place to notice the rhyme and meter of the poem. Check out
the ends of the lines. Notice anything?
Shmoop does: the rhyme scheme is ABABCDECDE—the classic pattern in an ode.
We've also got ten syllables per line in a sort of daDUM daDUM meter. That, ladies
and gents, is iambic pentameter. Go check out the "Form and Meter" section for
more on that.
Lines 11-14
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
The first stanza told us what we should not do when we feel melancholy—this
stanza tells us what we should do. Finally, some positive, constructive advice.
The speaker tells us that when a melancholy mood strikes, it comes down suddenly,
like a cloud or a fog dropping from the sky. Boom: sadness.
And when that happens, the "weeping cloud" or fog of our melancholy covers up
flowers and hides the green grass on the hills.
In other words, when we're sad, our bad mood can blind us to the beautiful things
around us. Depression can be like a fog that conceals all the pretty stuff.
The word "shroud" is used to describe the way a mist or fog rests on a hillside like a
veil, but it's also a word we associate with death—a "shroud" is the cloth that gets
wrapped over a dead person at his or her funeral. Adds a rather depressing note to
these lines, don't you think?
Lines 15-17
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
So when that melancholy mood strikes, we're supposed to feed ("glut") our sorrow
on beautiful things (like roses), not on the sad emblems of death.
Don't go getting too uplifted, though. The beautiful things we're supposed to focus
on aren't meant to cheer us up; they're meant to remind us of the impermanence of
joy and beauty.
"Morning roses" don't last very long before they wilt; the rainbows you see at the
beach in salty ocean spray obviously disappear within seconds; and globed peonies,
like morning roses, fade and turn brown very soon after they open.
Seems like the speaker wants us to think of beauty and sorrow as being linked
together, somehow, because all beauty fades with time. Maybe this is connected to
those earlier images of death (the beetle and the death-moth) that are also emblems
of resurrection or transformation…
Lines 18-20
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
The speaker offers us another way to "feed" our melancholy mood: if our lover (the
speaker assumes the reader is male and that his lover, or "mistress," is a woman) is
angry, we should let her yell or "rave" at us, and just hold her hand, and
contemplate the beauty of her eyes.
Yeah, because that always ends a fight.
The speaker keeps using the metaphor of "feeding" or "glutting" our melancholy
mood. It seems like he wants us to keep the melancholy alive. But why might that
Maybe this is connected to the end of the first stanza, when he tells us to be wakeful
and alert to our melancholy.
What do you think? Why should we "feed" our bad mood, according to this
Lines 21-24
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
The "she" of this line refers back to the "mistress" of the previous stanza.
She is beautiful, but someday her beauty will fade. That's right, Shmoopers: your
mistress will someday grow old and die, and the speaker of this poem wants us to
contemplate that fact.
The speaker personifies Beauty when he says that the mistress "dwells with
Beauty." Why doesn't he just say that she is beautiful? Why does he make "Beauty"
into a kind of roommate that she lives with?
Maybe it's because her beauty isn't permanent—someday it's going to move out, and
she's going to be living alone, without her beauty. If he said that she is beautiful, it
would seem like her beauty were more permanent.
Another personification in the next line: the speaker says that Joy is like a person
who blows kisses with his hand at his mouth to say "adieu," or farewell.
Yet another personification: Pleasure is "nigh," or nearby, and turns into poison
right as you're sipping at it like a bee sips nectar from a flower.
Lines 25-28
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
Fun fact, Shmoopers: "Ay" is the poetic way of saying "yep."
Yep, says the speaker, you can be in the midst of pleasure and still find a way to feel
The speaker uses another metaphor to express this—pleasure or "Delight" is
personified as a god. You can be worshiping in the temple of the god Delight, and
still find a "shrine" (a holy place) dedicated to Melancholy with a capital M.
Note that "sovran" is a contraction of the word "sovereign" to give the word the
right number of syllables to fit the meter—check out "Form and Meter" for more on
But because the shrine to Melancholy is "veiled," or partially hidden, in the temple
of Delight, not everyone can see it.
Only someone who is able to burst the "grapes of Joy" is able to see how
Melancholy is linked with Delight.
You might think that a person who always sees something sad in every "temple of
Delight" would be a terrible pessimist, but the speaker assures us that the person
who can see Melancholy in happy places actually has good taste—they have a "fine
Lines 29-30
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
The gist here is that the person who understands that melancholy is linked with joy
and pleasure will understand the power of melancholy.
And that person's soul will be a "trophy" that melancholy has won. The poem ends
on a bit of a sinister note, implying that everyone who experiences melancholy is
like some sort of victory of the personified emotion, like a deer head mounted on a
Think of it this way: pleasure and melancholy are linked because nothing that brings
you pleasure lasts forever. Beauty is fleeting, after all. And once that beauty or
pleasure fades, what's left is grief at its loss—or melancholy.
The general idea of the poem is that sadness is to be found not in the ugly and painful things of life,
but in the beauty and pleasures of the world. Logically then true happiness would also be found in
contemplating the ugly and the painful things. If the pain of the suffering is less acute than the pain
of knowing that beauty and joy will soon fade, the pleasure of life is also less intense than the
knowledge that it is pain which gives meaning to it. Obviously, Keats seems to be preoccupied with
the idea of seeking a heavy dose of melancholy. But, he finds both problem and remedy in the same
object. The remedy for melancholy for common people would be something that makes them
unconscious of sadness and pain. To experience true melancholy then one must rather stimulate all
senses. So purifying the senses is not a way to experience melancholy. A More acute senses and more
consciousness can only make us experience true melancholy and tragedies of life.
In the second stanza, Keats has suggested all sensuous techniques for experience: "glut thy sorrow" for
the gustatory (taste), "imprison her soft hand" for the tactile (touch), "let her rave" for the aural
(hearing), "thy missess some rich anger shows" for the visual and "morning rose" for connotation of the
olfactory (smelling) perception. In this way, he has suggested the reader to seek ‘sensuous’ stimulants of
joy to realize how all these objects of pleasure lead us naturally into the anguish of the 'soul' through the
tragic consciousness of their transience. This is a principle of reaching at the true experience of
melancholy via the opposite. This is, no surprise, the principle of human cognition: light and dark, vice
and virtue, life and death, all get their meaning against their opposites. The originality in
Keats‘conception lies in this ‘simultaneity’ of perception.
True melancholy is inseparable from consciousness and contemplation of beautiful things and the
experience of joy and pleasure. Only that person can experience the finest shades of melancholy who has
the capacity for enjoying the raptures of delights, and the ecstasies of joy. But, melancholy comes to the
person who knows that the raptures and ecstasies of the beautiful and pleasurable are tragically short
lived. A dull and blunt soul incapable of experiencing the intensity of pleasure cannot also experience
acute pain. So, the sharpness of consciousness resolves pain and pleasure in the act of contemplation of
either of them.
In the last stanza, Keats personifies the state of melancholic mind as, goddess. He characterizes her by
describing the company that she keeps: Beauty, Joy and Pleasure. This cheerful trio is an unusual
company for the somber Melancholy. But, each of them has within itself the seeds of its opposites that
can be summed up as melancholy. The expert of experience, who is sensitive and insightful enough, only
can understand that even joy itself is another facet of sorrow. The knowledge of the whole transcends
ignorant pleasures or simple oblivion. The choice lies between oblivion and awareness. Though pain is
the price of awareness, what makes the pain bearable in Keats' view is his implied affirmative that
experience itself both of the pleasant and the painful alike is valuable. Experience itself is to be savored
for its own sake. The reality of life, which it is made up of such inextricable opposites, is to be favored
above a one-sided quest for temporary pleasure, oblivion or masochistic search for melancholy. The
person who can experience the intensity of joy can experience melancholy, and vice versa.
Melancholy and joy, in the normal sense, is conflicting phenomena. These phenomena do seem to have
made Keats puzzled over them. Life seems to have perplexed him with its stock of melancholy. Keats
finds the solution in his own principle of binaries, where typically the binaries resolve when he
propounds the idea of simultaneous understanding, experience and acceptance of the opposites as
making the complete whole of reality.
"The Kraken"
Below the “upper deep” of the ocean, far submerged, the Kraken
waits in his “ancient, dreamless, uninvaded” sleep. Small rays of
sunlight play off his sides, and massive sponges undulate above
him. In the “sickly light,” innumerable and colossal polyps
winnow about in the green water. The Kraken has lain here for
ages and grown fat on seaworms in his sleep. Soon the fire of the
End Times will heat the deep, and the Kraken will rise to the
surface of the sea and die, seen briefly by men and angels.
This short but memorable poem was published in 1830, included
in Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. It is a sonnet, but it has fifteen lines
instead of fourteen; it is modeled on the Petrarchan rather than
Shakespearian sonnet with its form of three quatrains and a
concluding couplet.
The poem is derived from the Norse legend of the kraken, massive
sea monsters that dwell off the coast of Norway and Greenland.
The word is Norwegian, but its origins are obscure; krake means
an unhealthy animal or something twisted. The creatures are most
likely based on sightings of giant squid, which live at great depths
but have occasionally surfaced to reportedly attack ships (in
earlier works, however, the kraken are described as crab-like). The
Norse legend centers on two creatures called Hafguta and
Lyngbakr, mentioned in the 13th-century Icelandic saga OrvarOdds.
A passage from the saga explains, “the hafguta is the greatest
monster occurring in the water. It is its nature that it swallows
both men and ships and whales and everything that it can reach. It
is submerged both day and night together.” The anonymous author
of the 13th-century work Konungs skuggsja wrote that the hafguta
is “more like land than a fish ... it seems to me as though there
must be no more than two in the oceans.”
The famed 18th-century taxonomist Carolus Linneaus classified
the kraken as a cephalopod in his Systema Naturae, but the
creature was removed from later editions. The kraken were also
mentioned in the work of Erik Pontoppidan, bishop of Bergen,
whose Natural History of Norway details the creatures’
destructiveness. The Swedish author Jacob Wallenberg wrote in
1781, “Could one doubt that this is the Leviathan of Job?”
Tennyson was no doubt influenced by the Biblical Leviathan, and
especially its presence in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. In Book
One, Milton writes, “There Leviathan / Hugest of living creatures,
on the deep / Stretch’d like a promontory.” Other possible sources
are Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1830-1833), which
challenged the geological timetable of the Bible, and T.C.
Croker’s Fairy Legends (1828), a book Tennyson owned.
The poem’s debt to ancient legends is clear, as is the poet’s
immense powers of language.
He is able to summon for his readers a mysterious and magnificent
image of a vast monster hovering in the dark deep of the ocean,
with a myriad of dim rays of sunshine illuminating the murky
green of the sea. The final image of the monster obeying some
primeval impulse to rise to the surface, fulfilling some kind of
Biblical prophecy of the End Times or “latter” days, and die in the
most glorious and dramatic manner possible is unforgettable.
One critic, James Donald Welch, reads the short poem through the
lens of Tennyson’s conception of time, a popular theme in critical
writing on the poet. He begins his article by noting the two
different types of time found in Tennyson’s work: the first is a
time that is “repetitive or static, without goal or terminus ...
usually associated with isolation,” and the second time is
“dynamic, purposeful, non-repetitive, and is associated with some
kind of contact between the individual and the community.”
Tennyson uses similar landscapes when conveying time—sea,
river, island or other isolated locale, sunset and sunrise, the
horizon, and the wasteland. Poems that suggest the first type of
time include “Mariana,” “The Lotos-Eaters,” and “Tithonus”;
poems that suggest the second type of time include “The Charge
of the Light Brigade” and “Demeter and Persephone.”
“The Kraken” includes both types of time, and Welch argues that
the enigmatic lyric is about “a deep truth that is imageless: the
quality of time itself.” The first part of the poem is sleep, isolated,
languid time that yields death to the end of time.
The last sentence, disturbing the sonnet form, explodes to reflect
the End Times, nearly outside of time, just as the kraken does.
The Kraken is a monster whose end is to rise and die, but in one
brief splendid moment he embraces the dynamic rush through
time to the end of time. The sublime effect of this rushing contrast
between sluggish life and the quick spark of death is also
conveyed through the switch from subject to verb and the use of
sight and hearing, which are absent from the first twelve lines.
“The Kraken” moves, Welch argues, from stasis to “the movement
out of this enclosed spatial time, enduring but not progressing, into
that moment in which time and eternity meet, when vision is both
human and transcendent.” One thus might see oneself and one’s
fate in the kraken.
Watching For Dolphins
Watching for Dolphins
Watching For Dolphins is probably David Constantine's
most celebrated poem. On the surface it seems to tell a simple,
uneventful narrative about looking for dolphins while crossing
by boat to Piraeus, the busy port which lies a short distance south
of Athens, the Greek capital. (The harbour has a long history stretching back into classical times.) But, as in most of
Constantine's poems, this poem contains resonances, allusions and
hidden depths - in this case, literal hidden depths.
All the desires, hopes and dreams of the disparate passengers are
focused on one thing: to see the dolphins. Isolated as they are
individually, there's a common feeling that, if the dolphins had
appeared, they would have bonded together in the shared unity of
their experience: ... and had they then / On the waves, on the
climax of our longing come / ... We should have laughed
and lifted the children up / Stranger to stranger ...
Gradually throughout the poem this personal yet common longing
becomes spiritual, religious in its intensity. The fat man stares like
a saint; the gulls could be a sign; everyone wants epiphany. It's
interesting that Constantine says that children would see dolphins
if anyone would, for children are often more naturally receptive
to and accepting of the wondrous and the divine, the numinous
and the miraculous, than adults.
In the end the epiphany doesn't happen, and the poem ends anticlimactically. The people disembark with eyes cast down. They
wake, blinking, as if emerging from a dream, a thwarted vision,
world. Though
disappointment, and leave the shared boat as isolated individuals
once again.
I know this poem reverberates on many levels, but ultimately I
think it's about the difficulty of locating the spiritual and the
numinous in today's world, the world of the abused Aegean,
which was once a mythical place of purity, a Garden of Eden
before the Fall. (Athens is well known for its smog and
pollution.) Now both it and the world are corrupted by tourism,
materialism, shallow 'surface' experience, polluted with the great
tankers, under their chains / In black water ...
Stormcock the Elder by Ruth Pitter
‘Stormcock the Elder’ by Ruth Pitter is a seven stanza poem which is separated into sets of
six lines, or sestets. Each of these sestets follows a specific and structured rhyme scheme.
The lines follow a patter of ababcc, alternating stanza to stanza as the poet saw fit.
The repetitive, and somewhat simple nature, of this rhyming pattern imbues the poem with
a sense of unity and continuity. By the time one gets to the second stanza, one should be
able to predict the upcoming rhymes. This structure also helps to keep the narrative on
track. There are no moments in which the story goes off topic or away from the main
subject of the “stormcock.”
Another point that a reader should take note of is the definition of the word “stormcock.” It
is a less common word used to refer to a mistle thrush (a bird which is easily found across
Europe, Asia and North Africa). You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Stormcock the Elder
‘Stormcock the Elder’ by Ruth Pitter describes the nature of a mistle thrush which sings in
close proximity to a speaker.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that she is within her “hermitage,” looking along
a shelf for bread, when she hears the sound of a bird singing. She goes to investigate and
sees the stormcock, or mistle thrush, alongside her dilapidated home. It does not notice her.
She spends the next stanzas describing what the bird looks like in great detail. The speaker
takes note of everything from the eyes, to the throat and tail feathers.
In the last lines she promotes a life of optimism. One should attempt to live as the mistle
thrush does, singing out even in February.
Analysis of Stormcock the Elder
Stanza One
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by stating that she is alone in her “dark
hermitage,” or small dwelling. This is a strange situation for a speaker to be in and may
raise a number of questions among readers. All that one is aware of at this point is that she
is “aloof,” or hidden…
From the world’s sight and the world’s sound,
She has placed herself in this position, or made her home in this particular spot, in an effort
to hide from the world. The speaker does not want to be a part of it. In the next lines she
describes how she was moving along her hovel near the “small door” along the roof,
looking “along the shelf for bread.”
Instead of finding bread she comes upon “celestial food instead.” This is the first reference
in the poem to another body or force at work. She has stumbled upon something which is
outside her confined world.
Stanza Two
In the sound stanza the speaker clarifies, at least somewhat, what it is she has found. The
first thing she describes is a noise “close at [her] ear.” It is “loud and wild” and seemingly
filled with “wintry glee.”
The noise is a shock to her ears, but not an unpleasant one. She refers to the singer of the
song as being an “old unfailing chorister.” It is someone, or something, which is used to
singing. It has honed its craft over many years but still cannot resist breaking “out in pride
of poetry.”
From her spot in the roof of the structure the speaker can see “Him.” He is “glorified” by
his singing.
Stanza Three
In the third stanza the speaker describes how the source of the sound, which the reader will
understand as a bird, is “an arm’s-length from [her] eye.” While she might be extremely
close to the bird it has yet to see her.
She is so close that she can see his “throbbing throat” and knows that it is the source of his
“cry.” The speaker is also able to see the bird’s
“breast” and how it is covered in “dew from the misty air,” as well as the “pointed tongue”
inside its mouth.
Stanza Four
The speaker continues her description of the bird in the fourth stanza. She begins by
focusing on the “large eye” which is…
ringed with many a ray
Of minion feathers.
She is noticing the complexity of the bird’s colouring and feather patterns. They are “finely
laid.” She also takes note of the “feet” and their ability to “grasp the elder-spray” on which
he is perching. The poet uses the rhyme scheme to great effect in these lines when she
writes, “The scale, the sinew, and the claw.”
Stanza Five
The fifth stanza is the final which focuses heavily on depicting the bird. She concludes her
description by speaking on the way the bird’s colors are all distinctive but eventually
“Merge into russet.” The bird seems to sport…
Gold sequins, spots of chestnut, shower
Of silver, like a brindled flower.
It is not a simple stormcock any longer. It is so much more beautiful and complex.
Stanza Six
In the sixth stanza the speaker departs from her description of the bird to speak on its larger
impact on the world. She completes this task by first comparing the bird’s jovial nature to
“northwest Jack.” This person is described as being a “Soldier of fortune.”
Just like the bird, he does well and makes “so brave a show” in the coldest months of the
year. He, and the mistle thrush singing so close to the speaker’s face, are like “rich
merchant[s] at a feast.”
Stanza Seven
In the final stanza the speaker concludes her narrative on a more somber note. Up until this
point she has been celebrating the beauty and resilience of the bird. She spent time on each
part of its body, making sure the reader understood how important it is to her, and should
be to any who hears her words.
In these last lines she speaks on one’s inability to know all parts of the world. This is in an
effort to interest a reader in the fact that many more will never know the mistle thrush, than
do. The speaker has spent her time glorifying the bird, but time will move on and these
thoughts will be forgotten.
She speaks to the reader and asks that “you” go ahead and “sing your song” and then go
about your life. The speaker hopes that any reading these lines will take some of the
resilience and optimism of the stormcock into the future colder months.
Summary of Cetacean
‘Cetacean’ by Peter Reading describes a speaker’s whale watching experience off the coast
of California and the overall grace of the blue whales he observed.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that it was on an early Sunday morning that he,
and his companions, set out to see the whales. They were intentionally going out to see blue
whales and traveled to a set of islands off the coast of California, the “Farallones.”
The speaker is successful in his quest and the rest of the poem is devoted to describing that
experience. He frequently takes note of the grace of their bodies, as well as their general
mass. He is amazed by their movements, and struck by the “diminutive” nature of their
dorsal fins.
The whales dive back under the water, rolling through the waves, showing off all the
markings of their bodies. The display finally ends when they dive into the depths, leaving
the narrator with the image of their “flukes,” or tail fins.
Analysis of Cetacean
Lines 1-8
The poem begins with the speaker describing the setting. Due to the format of Reading’s
writing in this piece it might take more than one reading to understand the first few lines.
The words appear out-of-order, and the choppy nature of the phrasing is quite unusual.
The speaker, and his unnamed companions, are setting off from San Francisco, early on a
Sunday morning. They have left behind “Fisherman’s Wharf” and are headed out to sea.
These simple phrases are evocative and bring to mind endless images of the tossing ocean
and hardy sailors setting out on a great quest. Taken in tandem with the title, one might
assume that this is the beginning of a hunt.
The poem continues on to describe a closer element of the setting, the boat itself. As the
speaker looks around he knows that the “vessel” is “sixty-three feet” from the “bow to
stern,” or front to back. The following line provides more context as well as the reason for
the trip. He and his companions are setting off in the hopes of seeing “Blue Whales” off of
“the Farallones,” a group of islands off the California coast.
The story is not about whether or not the speaker will see the whales though, as the
following two words confirm. He saw the whales as they came quite close to the boat. They
were swimming and rising “slowly” from the water. They breached at an angle and
appeared as “grey as slate.” Their bodies were covered with “white mottling” and compared
to the overall size of their bodies, their “dorsal” fins were small.
In the final line of this section he states that their “broad flat heads” were impressively
large. The speaker knows a lot about these animals and relays, scientifically, to the reader
that they were “one quarter their overall body-lengths.”
Lines 9-17
In the next set of lines the speaker continues to describe the interaction he had with these
blue whales off the coast of California. After the whales had come to the surface they
“blew” out water. These streaks were enormous, and “straight and slim as upright
columns..” They rose up to “thirty feet.” This is a fact that clearly impresses the speaker.
He sees these creatures as both beautiful and highly impressive.
In the next lines, the show is over. The whales descend back into the water and
momentarily disappear. The poet is trying to evoke a sense of loss— through his speaker he
has described something wonderful, and then taken it away. They were gone from the
surface, but could still be seen rolling through the water. Their “backs” would “hove into”
the speaker’s view and he could tell that they were longer than “the vessel herself.”
Lines 18-23
In the final four lines the speaker brings the narrative of whale watching to a close. He has
glimpsed the mass of the whales, and has been impressed by their biological
distinctiveness. He notes the fact that as they rolled he once more caught sight of their
“diminutive dorsals,” (an interesting use of “d” sound alliteration by the poet).
In the last two lines the whales departed from the scene entirely. They “arched” up their
backs and their tails. The speaker knows they are getting ready to dive. They do so, and the
last thing he is able to see are their “flukes,” or tail fins. One can easily imagine the grace
of these movements and the true sense of loss that would be experienced when the whales
were truly and finally out of sight.
Analysis of Afternoon with Irish Cows
Stanza One
Afternoon with Irish Cows begins with the speaker describing a particular location he is
very familiar with. The exact area of the speaker’s interest is not made clear, but using the
information supplied in the title, and only that which is spoken in the first line, the reader
can come to a fairly clear conclusion about where the poem is taking place.
The first line describes the speaker seeing “a few dozen.” This enigmatic “dozen” is not
defined any further for the time being, and if one did not read the title, it would not be
completely clear that the speaker is describing seeing cows.
The cows are close to the speaker, so much so that he sees them everyday from where he
lives. They are “across the road” and he can observe them from the window of his house.
This makes the animals a crucial and repetitive part of the speaker’s everyday life. It would
be unusual for him to walk out his door and not see these animals, a fact which comes up in
the following lines.
He continues on to describe how the cows spend the entire day, “stepping…from tuft to
tuft.” Their lives seem simple to him, and their appearance is summarized in this stanza
through the size of their heads. Throughout the poem the speaker gives a bit more detail,
one line at a time, about what the cows look like. The trickling in of context would slowly
reveal to one unable to see the title, what the animal the speaker sees is.
The lines continue on, and the speakers describes how usually the cows are always there,
but sometimes he looks out the window and it is if they have “taken wing” and somehow
managed to “fly off to another country.”
Many readers will be able to relate to this strange phenomenon, whether through bird
watching, or other large animals like horses and sheep. One moment the cows are there, and
the next they seem to have vanished.
Stanza Two
The second stanza brings the reader further into the speaker’s day. It is later on in the same
afternoon and he is describing another moment where after seeing the field without cows,
he looks out the “blue front door, “ and sees that the field is “full of their munching.” They
are back where they’re supposed to be, “lying down” on their sides. They are doing no
more than they were previously. Perhaps, the speaker thinks, they are “waiting for rain.”
The final two lines of this stanza describe how the speaker sees their interior lives. He is
unable to penetrate their thoughts and the only conclusion he can come to is that they are
“patient and dumbfounded.” He sees them as being incredibly quiet and “mysterious.”
Stanza Three
In an effort to make real the world of cows in which he is living, the speaker jumps to
another moment of observation that has to do with sound. Not only are they visual
mysterious, they are also strange in the noises they make.
He describes how “every once in a while” he will be engaged in a simple task, like cutting
up an apple, and suddenly jump at a noise coming from the field. The sound seems to him
to be one of intense pain. He imagines that a cow is being killed or, “pierced through the
side with a long spear.”
The speaker says that he often walks down to the field to check on the animals, just to make
sure that none of them are injured.
Stanza Four
The origin of the mysterious noise that the speaker heard and investigated in the third
stanza is revealed in the fourth. Once he has walked down to the fence surrounding his
neighbour’s property, he sees “the noisy one.” It is a female cow and she is “anchored” to
the ground on “all fours.”
He states that “her neck” is stretched to its limit and she is “bellowing” to the sky. Her
sounds are “full-bodied” and seem to have originated from the “darkness of her belly.” The
noise is simply the essence of cow. It is a “bellow” strictly possessed by cows and
expressed as only they can. It cannot, and should not, be understood by humans.
Stanza Five
In the final stanza of this piece the speaker continues to describe the sound that the cow
made and his thoughts about her during its aftermath. He no longer fears that the cow is in
danger. Instead, he comes to the conclusion that she “was only announcing…herself.” She
was expressing her “unadulterated cowness.” The noise contains, as state previously, all
that it means to be a cow.
The noise represents more to the speaker than he initially thought. As he contemplates its
depth, beauty, and purpose, he sees it stretching beyond this particular cow to all of her
kind. It expands along “all the green fields” and up into “the gray clouds.” There is no force
on earth, nor barrier, that can stop its progression.
In the final two lines the speaker is brought back to the reality of the moment, and shocked
by wildness of the cow’s expression. He now sees in this animal much more than he did
previously. All it took for him to change his opinion of the mental capacity of this creature
was to look directly into her eyes and consider for a moment why she was really doing
what she was doing.
The Buck in the Snow by Edna St.
Vincent Millay
‘The Buck in the Snow’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a twelve line poem which is
separated into one set of five lines, or quintet, one single line, and then a final set of six
lines, or sestet. ‘The Buck in the Snow’ has a very interesting rhyme scheme inn that the
entire first stanza, the single line in the middle, and two lines of the last stanza all rhyme.
Its twelve lines follow the pattern of: aaaaa a bacdaa. This is quite an unusual pattern and
certainly works to create a sense of unity within this piece.
There is no question that the poet wants her speaker to craft a certain tone at the beginning,
and then as one will learn at the poem’s halfway point, shock the reader with its
continuance. That being said, it is important to note that the first five lines of this piece are
quite different, but also similar, to the final six. The first half of the poem holds nothing but
peace and images of a pristine world, while the second casts a shadow over this world by
bringing in death. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of The Buck in the Snow
‘The Buck in the Snow’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay describes the power of death to
overcome all boundaries and inflict loss on even the most peaceful of times.
The poem begins with the speaker describing a beautiful snow-covered landscape in which
she is exploring. She immediately turns to address her listener asking him/her if they were
able to see the buck and the dear which passed by the hemlock trees earlier. With this
image in mind she tells the reader that now she has found the buck dead.
Death, something the speaker finds to be endlessly interesting and strange, came and took
the deer. It has the power to go wherever and whenever it wants to claim those it desires.
Anyone could be next, including the last doe the speaker saw.
Analysis of The Buck in the Snow
Lines 1-6
The speaker begins this piece by describing for the reader, and her listener, a specific scene.
The poet has chosen to write this piece with a certain listener in mind. The speaker is
addressing the entire poem to one person, or perhaps to one certain kind of person who
needs to hear what she has to say.
The scene that the speaker describes is one of peace. There is a “White sky,” that might
seem cold and distant, but at this moment fits perfectly into the snowy world she is within.
There are “hemlocks” all around the speaker which are so heavy with snow that they are
“bowing,” or bending. Amazingly, with only a few words the poet has been able to paint a
clear image of her world.
The next line begins with her speaking to the listener. She is asking him/her a specific
question, if they saw the “antlered buck and his doe” at the “beginning of evening.” They
were, she says, “Standing in the apple-orchard.” Whether the listener saw them or not, the
speaker is ready to interject saying that she did. She “saw them” and then “saw them
suddenly go.” The animals bounded off without a moments notice.
The deer moved gracefully through this pristine winter landscape. They take “long” and
“lovely” leaps. It is as if they are moving in slow motion, although the speaker knows this
isn’t’ the case. The last she saw of the animals, at least for now, was the sight of their tails
going over the “stone-wall into the wood.”
Just as she began this stanza she ends with, “hemlocks bowed with snow.” Here is where
they disappeared, the last place she saw them. At this pint in the piece the tone is quite calm
and pleasant. There is nothing to be overly concerned about, a reader should not be
expecting the turn that comes with the floating middle line.
Line 6
This line state that “Now” the buck is in the snow at the speaker’s feet, she has found him
with “his wild blood scalding the snow.” The deer’s life force, something so pure and alive,
is fading away. It is moving away in the form of blood into the cold icy world that killed
Lines 7-12
Now that the poem has completed its turn to the darker side of life, the speaker is able to
take her time contemplating what it means to die and how death is a “strange…thing.”
The final sestet begins with just that statement that death is a “strange…thing” able to bring
a beautiful, strong animal like a “buck” to “his knees …in the snow.” She does not feel like
there should be any force on earth capable of this feat. A buck’s life should not drain out of
it, nor should its “antlers” be in the snow.
She continues on through this section of the poem to speak of death’s ability to move from
place to place. It is not restricted by any human, animal or immaterial force. It goes where it
needs to when it needs to.
In this particular situation, death could, she states, have moved from “Under the heavy
hemlocks” which are moving under the weight of the snow they bare. It could already be on
its way to its next victim. The speaker does not doubt that the next victim could be anther
innocent creature, perhaps even the doe herself. The now lonely animal is filled with “Life”
at the moment, staring out into the world, but death could soon come along behind.
You Will Know When You Get There
by Allen Curnow
‘You Will Know When You Get There’ by Allen Curnow is a twenty-three line poem and
the title piece of Curnow’s collection, You Will Know When You Get There: Poems. The
piece is separated into ten couplets, or sets of two lines, and one final tercet, or set of three
Curnow has not chosen to structure the poem with a consistent pattern of rhyme or rhythm.
The lines are all very similar in length though. This lends the piece a feeling of physical
unity on the page. It appears to be very structured upon first glance but when one
investigates deeper the emotional nature of the text is emphasized through the free verse
Summary of You Will Know When You
Get There
‘You Will Know When You Get There’ by Allen Curnow speaks on the path of life through
metaphors of the sun and sea.
The poem begins with the speaker describing how no one, no matter who they are, goes to
the sea before or after their time. The vague language of the poem lends a dark and
foreboding feeling to the sea. This is contrasted by the warmth of the sun. The two elements
come to represent life and death.
In the following lines the sun funnels its light into the sea without seeming to know it is
emptying. Three characters are introduced to the narrative. A man wading into the sea and
two young boys. The boys represent life, and the man, impending death.
The poem concludes with the inevitable ending that the first lines alluded to.The listener,
referred to as “you” progresses deep into the ocean, alone.
Analysis of You Will Know When You
Get There
Lines 1-6
In the first couplet the speaker begins by describing a “sea’ which from “Nobody comes up
from” late. It immediately appears as if there is some kind of deadline the speaker is very
aware of. The line that no one ever passes is represented by the sea. It is a place that no one
goes to, or comes back from late.
These lines, and those that follow are vague. It is not entirely clear what exactly the speaker
is referring to. There is though a sense of foreboding. The sea does not seem like a place
one wants to venture to, especially if it is “late.” In the following couplets the speaker goes
on to describe the path that leads to the sea.
The description is also very dark, adding to depressing mood of the lines. If one was to
travel down this path they not want to go down the “last steep kilometre.” It appears to be
the most dangerous part of the walk. This is due to the wet areas that have been pummelled
by a “shower.” The shower of rain was, and is, so powerful that it “shred[s]” the light
coming from the sky.
Curnow’s speaker is now describing a path which seems quite dangerous. One is liable to
fall as the ground is wet, and there is no clear light coming from the sky. Although it
continues to pour from its “tank,” the sun, it is obscured by the rain. Whatever dark forces
are in this area, they are able to block out the light of the sun.
From these sections one should be able to infer that some aspect of this piece is going to be
about death. It is likely the force which takes light, and from which no one goes too late or
early. One goes to “death” exactly when they are meant to. It is embodied by the sea in the
first lines.
Lines 7-12
The following lines are not any clearer than those which preceded them. At this point the
speaker references the “celestial.” One must trace the mention of the sun into these new
couplets to understand that the “Reservoir” spoken of in line eight is the sun. The sun, and
the light it emits, is “celestial.” It continues to pour out, unaware that it is “emptying.” This
is due to the fact that the “light” is still there. The speaker has put a finishing point on the
sun’s ability to produce light. At some unknown point it is going to end.
This can be considered as an allusion to the death that awaits everyone. One continues to
live, emptying their reserve of light, until there is nothing left. In the following lines
Curnow makes a direct reference to Ezra Pound’s Canto VII with the line, “‘gathers the
gold against it.’” In this line Pound was referencing how gold is able to attract light even in
the gloom.
This line fits into Curnow’s poem as the sun sits over the sea like gold. It attracts all the
good and fine things in life. Some of the light that becomes a part of the sun, and which
shines under its influence, is the “crushed rock.” It is not something one immediately
notices on a beach. It is often simple “underfoot.”
The next couplet introduces “you” into the poem. There is a speaker the speaker is
addressing this work to, although it is unclear who this person is. The listener is said to
“go” alongside the sun. It is likely the metal destination is death, or as represented in this
piece, the sea.
Lines 13-18
In the path towards death, the “sun gets there first.” In its way, this line is depressing but
also somewhat comforting. If the sea is death, one should not be as fearful of it as the sun
and all its light as entered there as well.
In the next stanzas two characters are introduced. These “Boys” are pure embodiments of
life. They have faces lit by the “campfire light.” They sit on the beach and watch as a man
travels towards its waters. After the previous descriptions of the ocean the reader should
also be alarmed by this fact.
The speaker states that the man has an arrangement with ocean that it “be shallowed threepoint seven metres.” This way the man can reach the mussels he is seeking more easily.
Lines 19-23
In the final five lines of this piece the day is coming to an end. One’s life is dating to a
close just as the sun is setting. There is only “One hour’s light..left.” Although this last hour
should be precious and important there is the moon to contend with. It is acting like an
excrescence, or growth. The moon feeds off the sun’s last light.
The concluding lines describe the slamming of a door. Its force is so strong that it makes
the “sea-floor shudder.” With the door’s final closing, one has entered into the last
moments of their life. It is time to proceed down the dangerous path, into the ocean. The
listener is described as doing just this. They travel “alone…into the surge-black / fissure.”
Huge Vapours Brood above the
Clifted Shore by Charlotte Smith
‘Huge Vapours Brood above the Clifted Shore‘ by Charlotte Smith is a Shakespearean
sonnet that follows the rhyme scheme of ababcdcdefefgg.
While rarely mentioned now, at the time of her death Charlotte Smith served as the
inspiration for many poets that followed, such as Wordworth, Coleridge, and Jane Austen.
Summary of Huge Vapours Brood
above the Clifted Shore
“Huge Vapours Brood above the Clifted Shore” by Charlotte Smith describes a brooding
storm, the darkness it casts, and the lighted paths of life one might choose to follow.
The speaker begins this piece by describing a storm that has come in “above the lifted
shore.” The storm is dense, dark, and “mute.” It has a muffling impact on the surrounding
lands and people. There are only a few sounds that are able to get through and the loudest
comes from the storm itself. The “repercussive roar” of thunder breaks the silence, as does
the sound of “foot” falls on “rocks remote” and the yelling of sailors at sea. Additionally,
the sound of men working the clocktower in town perseveres. These sounds are heard under
the worst of circumstances. Although all should be consumed, still life goes on.
In the second half of the sonnet the speaker states that there are two lighted paths in the
darkness that are visible. The first is created by the white surf of the beach. It runs parallel
to the water and is a safe guide for one to follow. The second, is more dangerous. It is the
path created by the lights of ships on the water. If one was to follow these lights, they
would surely drown. By contrasting these two situations the speaker is able to depict how
in darkness one still has the ability to succeed. But, there is also a chance of failure or
death. All is not lost, but the situation is no less dangerous.
Analysis of Huge Vapours Brood
above the Clifted Shore
Lines 1-8
Huge vapours brood above the clifted shore,
Night o’er the ocean settles, dark and mute,
Save where is heard the repercussive roar
Of drowsy billows, on the rugged foot
Of rocks remote; or still more distant tone
Of seamen, in the anchored bark, that tell
The watch reliev’d; or one deep voice alone
Singing the hour, and bidding “strike the bell.”
The title of this piece was chosen, as was common during this time, from the first line of
the poem. The first line, in-tandem with the title, vibrantly describe the weather over a
“clifted shore.” The sky above the water, and land, is covered in vapors of clouds. These
are dense, and appear “brooding.” It is likely that they are dark, and perhaps intimidating in
their mass. This assumption is supported by the second line in which it become clear that it
is “Night.” The darkness of the nighttime hours is setting over the ocean. It makes the
whole world feel, “dark and mute.” It is as if the clouds have dampened the landscape and
pushed back it’s colors and light.
The speaker continues on to state that there are some areas that are not quite so quiet. These
places are filled with the “repercussive roar” of thunder. The “billows,” or masses of
clouds, are “drowsy” in their noise. It does not take any effort to produce the sound, but that
does not make it any less impressive.
Other areas also exist where sound can be heard, or movement observed. These include
anywhere that the “rugged” fall of foot steps echoes out from “rocks remote.” Those who
are still outside at this time seem to cast their sound louder and farther than they would at
any other time of day. The circumstances of the night are enhancing the natural sounds of
this world.
Finally, the speaker adds two more sounds, “the anchored bark,” of a sailor at sea. This
sound is very distant, but the narrator is able to make out the command, “The watch [is]
reliev’d.” Men are going about their lives as normal; oblivious, or perhaps tuned to, the
changes in the weather and forbidding “vapours” that are “brood[ing]” overhead.
The last sound is that of “one deep voice” that sings out “the hour.” These sounds come
from the clock tower in town. The operators of the structure can be heard speaking to one
another, and above all, the bell can be heard ringing. This once more signals that while the
weather is remarkably intense, people are carrying on as they always do.
Lines 9-14
All is black shadow, but the lucid line
Mark’d by the light surf on the level sand,
Or where afar, the ship-lights faintly shine
Like wandering fairy fires, that oft on land
Mislead the pilgrim; such the dubious ray
That wavering reason lends, in life’s long darkling way.
In the second half of the sonnet the speaker goes back to describing what the clouds have
done to the landscape. The whole environment the narrator is observing has been cast in
“black shadow,” but the darkness is not all encompassing. There are points of life in the
world that stand out against the heavy dark clouds.
The speaker lists two examples of this persevering light. She mentions the “light surf” of
the water, where it touches “the level sand.” It creates a “lucid line” that runs,
penetratingly, through the darkness. This is a straight, and consistent path. The one which
can, and should be followed.
In contrast, the speaker describes the light of the ships far off in the distance. Although this
light is dim, it is not irrelevant. The faint lights shine like “fairy fires.” They are given an
air of magic, and power, that is able to break through the night. These lights, while
beautiful, are not to be trusted. If one was to follow a ship-light from shore, they would end
up in the sea. They are compared to the “fairy fires, that oft on land / Mislead the pilgrim,”
following one would be a mistake. They are “dubious” in their providence and destination.
The speaker is hoping to portray the different paths that one might take in life, and the ways
in which darkness might be penetrated, even when the clouds are “Huge” and brooding.
This second choice of path, that of the “ship-lights,” is only followed by those with
“wavering reason.” No one in their right mind would choose to go this way and traverse the
path of “life’s long darkling way.” There are better destinations to strive for, and ways to
get there.