Tag Archives: poetry analysis

‘The Tay Moses’ by Kathleen Jamie

What can I fashion for you
but a woven creel of river-
rashes, a golden
oriole’s nest my gift
wrought from the Firth –

And choose my tide: either
the flow, when, watertight
you’ll drift to the uplands
my favourite hills, held safe
in eddies where salmon, wisdom
and guts withered in spawn,
rest between moves – that
slither of body as you were born –

or the ebb, when the water
will birl you to snag
on reeds, the river
pilot leaning over the side
Name o’ God!‘ and you’ll change hands:
tractor-man, grieve, farm-wife
who takes you into her
competent arms

even as I drive slamming
the car’s gears,
spitting gravel on tracks
down between berry-fields,
engine still racing, the door wide
as I run toward her, crying
LEAVE HIM! Please,
it’s okay, he’s mine.

This is a poem by Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie, which I listened to on The Poetry Archive today.
The poet says that she wrote The Tay Moses when she was expecting her first son, and was feeling apprehensive about the new arrival and addition to her household. I like this poem because it seems to me to be very brave in its emotional honesty; it is not acceptable in our society for women to express these sorts of feelings and I just think it was brave to publish this.

She begins the poem by imagining making a little Moses basket for her baby, from reeds from the Tay river (“wrought from the Firth”). In the poem, she puts the basket and baby in the river, choosing her “tide”, and nonetheless making sure that the basket is “water-tight”. I love the language here, with the “woven creel of river” and the “golden oriole’s nest”.

We follow the poet’s imagination as the basket with the baby drifts “to the uplands”, “held safe in eddies”… until it gets caught somewhere and is rescued by a “tractor man” and his “farm-wife”, who takes the baby in her “competent arms”. The image of this capable farmer’s wife taking the baby into her strong, motherly arms, is something that seemingly triggers the protective instinct in our mother-poet, for she is suddenly racing to get her baby back. I love the urgency of the language describing this, as she is “slamming/ the car’s gears” and “spitting gravel on tracks”. This is such efficient, evocative language and I think it’s really clever. You can hear the regret and the frantic desire to undo the situation her imagination has produced. The poem ends with the poet running to her child, crying “LEAVE HIM! Please,/ It’s ok, he’s mine.”

I love the nightmarish/dreamlike quality to this poem, and the way that letting that Moses basket float down the river is like the poet’s mind running off with her fears that she won’t be a good mother. At the end, I love how the way she races to salvage her child and her urgency to take him back from the “competent” farmer’s wife is like her mother’s instinct retrieving her fearful mind that was running away with a crazy notion. In the end, she salvages everything, undoes the nightmare she has dreamt up in a panic, and realises how much she already loves her child.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh

‘Nothing will die’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson

When will the stream be aweary of flowing
Under my eye?
When will the wind be aweary of blowing
Over the sky?
When will the clouds be aweary of fleeting?
When will the heart be aweary of beating?
And nature die?
Never, oh! never, nothing will die;
The stream flows,
The wind blows,
The cloud fleets,
The heart beats,
Nothing will die.

Nothing will die;
All things will change
Thro’ eternity.
‘Tis the world’s winter;
Autumn and summer
Are gone long ago;
Earth is dry to the centre,
But spring, a new comer,
A spring rich and strange,
Shall make the winds blow
Round and round,
Thro’ and thro’,
Here and there,
Till the air
And the ground
Shall be fill’d with life anew.

The world was never made;
It will change, but it will not fade.
So let the wind range;
For even and morn
Ever will be
Thro’ eternity.
Nothing was born;
Nothing will die;
All things will change.

This in an early poem by Tennyson, which appeared in his first book (Poems, chiefly lyrical) published in 1830. I like this poem, and the poem that will follow it tomorrow (the cheerfully titled, All things will die). I thought it was most appropriate to post them consecutively because they seem to go together. They present entirely contrasting perspectives on the world and on existence, and I think it is really interesting to compare the two.

In this first poem, Nothing will die, the speaker seemingly believes in a world that is in constant motion, constant change, always going “Round and round,/ Thro’ and thro’”. The world depicted is one where nature never tires of its cycles: “The stream flows,/ The wind blows,/ The cloud fleets,/ The heart beats,/ Nothing will die.” I love the way Tennyson uses this energetic rhythm here to reflect the rhythms of the natural world (I also love ‘fleet’ as a verb!) Life moves constantly through the seasons, always coming full circle to Spring, which fills it “with life anew”.

The defining statement in this poem, I think, is “The world was never made;/ It will change, but it will not fade.” This is a beautiful expression of the idea that if the world was never created/’born’ then it need not end; if something is born it must die, but if something simply exists, without being born or created, then it can be said to be eternal. Our notions of God (in most religions, I think) tell us that he is uncreated and can never die (i.e. he is eternal.) I like this idea of death not existing, but of it simply being a change, and part of a continual cycle.

I think that this poem could also be read as being a poem of denial – the voice of one so afraid of death that he tries to convince himself that ‘Nothing will die’. Read in this way, the rhythm of the poem seems feverish and frantic – a mantra to convince oneself of a fantasy. However, I don’t personally read it like that.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh

‘Chanson d’automne’ (‘Autumn Song’) by Paul Verlaine

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur
Monotone.

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

 

Here is my translation of this autumnal poem by Verlaine:

The long sobs
Of violins
Of autumn
Wound my heart
With a monotonous
Languor.

All suffocating
And pale, when
The hour chimes,
I remember
The old days
And I weep.

And I go off
In the cold wind
Which carries me
Hither, thither,
As a
Dead leaf.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh

“O captain! My Captain!..” by Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

Walt Whitman enriched American literature with his outstanding creative work; he broke the new ground in poetry. Whitman despised slavery and fought for the ideals of freedom and democracy. Born into a poor family, he did not have a chance to finish school, so his path in literature is often called the path of overcoming. Yet it was probably the lack of formal schooling that enabled Whitman to create a new form of poetry, free verse.

Although the poem “O captain! My Captain!..” seems to possess a certain romantic quality, as well as a tragic element and indifference towards politics, in fact it was written on the death of the US president Abraham Lincoln. The poem is closely related to the drama film “Dead Poets Society” directed by Peter Weir. The movie received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, while the British Academy of Film and Television Arts named it the best film and the best soundtrack. Characters cite the poem more than once, revealing their devotion to the completely new value system opposed to conservatism. Freedom and development are the basic principles of Whitman’s poetry.

This poem was used by the creators of the computer game Mass Effect. Its lines can also be heard in one of the episodes of the Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman series.

Whitman’s verses in general, including “O captain! My Captain!..”, lack common rhythm, fixed meter pattern, and end rhyme. They are, however, rich in inner harmonies and enumerations. The author himself described his verses in the following way: “it should be as natural as human breathing”. The poem is actually based on the uneven rhythm that can be compared to the irregular breathing of a person or a group of people who are going through a great loss. The fact that the captain lost his life neither in a battle nor fighting against the elements, but when the port is already quivering on the horizon, makes this loss even greater.

The seaman on whose behalf the poem is written does not say just “Captain”, but “My Captain”, which emphasizes his devotion to the principles, that were leading the late captain through his life. To give this idea even more emphasis, Whitman used the image of a father: “Here Captain! dear father!” Father is a person whom the son entirely trusts and who would never betray his trust. This image shows that this devotion has no limits. Devotion to the person who led the “ship”, the United States of America, from slavery to the rise of democratic freedoms.

Reviewed by Katerina Sidoruk