Here are some summaries of the poems that we studied in class that our teacher Pato prepared for us in order to understand them better and to help us study.
PIED BEAUTY – Gerard Manley Hopkins
Hopkins was born in England in 1844 and died in 1889. This poem was published in 1918, some forty-one years after Hopkins
wrote it in 1877, the year he became a Jesuit priest. His distinctive and innovative poetry found fame after his death rather
than during the English Victorian age in which he lived, when more traditional verse was popular and perhaps more
acceptable to the Victorian taste.
Overview of Poem:
Line 1 gives thanks to God for creating ‘dappled things’.
Lines 2 – 5 provides a list of specific things which are ‘dappled’ and which cumulatively express delight at such variety in the
natural world. In order, they are:
· skies presumably of blue sky and white cloud
· a ‘brinded’ cow – i.e. a cow streaked with different colours
· the trout with its specks of different colour (‘stipple’ is a speck)
· chestnuts glowing like coal – an image approaching the surreal, the black of the coal and the glow of the flame
· finches’ wings landscape of fields ‘plotted and pieced’ like a patchwork, some planted, some fallow and some
recently ploughed (‘fold, fallow and plough’).
Line 6 shifts attention from natural phenomena to the jobs that men (!) have and the different types of equipment they have.
‘Gear’ and ‘tackle’ are more recognisably comprehensible to the twenty-first century reader than the word ‘trim’ as used
Line 7 marks a turning-point. The language becomes more abstract in character, after the concrete detail of the previous
lines. It might be helpful to look at the final two lines of the poem first: God is the creator of all things mentioned in the
poem, and should be praised. Then go back to the adjectives in line 7: God is creator of ‘all things counter, original, spare,
strange’. These ‘fickle’ things are themselves ‘freckled’ with opposite qualities: swift / slow; sweet / sour; adazzle / dim.
Looking in detail:
Consider the relationship of the first line to the rest of the poem. The central place of God as creator is picked up again in the
final two lines. The ‘dappled things’ are listed in lines 2 – 5.
Think about what it is precisely that God is being praised for. Look closely at the descriptions of cow, trout, chestnut, finches
and landscapes. In what ways do the descriptions appeal to the sense of sight?
Before dealing with lines 7 – 9, consider the significance of the final two lines to the whole poem. What do you make of the
made-up word ‘fathers-forth’ and the short final line ‘Praise him’ in the context of the overall poem?
Then explore the meaning of lines 7 – 9. What do you think ‘things’ refer to, and what do you make of the four adjectives
‘counter, original, spare, strange’? Use a dictionary here: ‘spare’, for example, is among other things defined as ‘surplus’,
‘leftover’ and ‘unwanted’. Which of these words do you feel to be the most suitable synonym, and why?
Consider how the list of opposites (lines 8-9) links with the idea of dappled things? You should now have a clearer idea of
what Hopkins is celebrating. Support your ideas by careful reference to the words of the poem.
How would you describe the tone? Do the references to God help them to answer this question? There is a note of religious
devotion in this celebration of the diversity of God’s creations.
In what ways do you feel the sounds reinforce the poem’s meanings?
HORSES – Edwin Muir
Muir was born in 1887 on a farm in the Orkney Islands, where he lived a happy childhood. At the age of 14, he moved with
his family to Glasgow, which he came to regard as a descent from Eden into hell. He became a critic and translator as well as
poet. He died in 1959. This poem Horses should not be confused with his later more frequently anthologised poem The
The sight of horses now, in the present, leads the speaker to consider his feelings towards horses when he was a child:
‘Perhaps some childish hour has come again’.
There is an other-worldliness about the description of the horses, something magical. Admiration and fear are mixed. There
is a clear Romantic feel about the poem: e.g. ‘And oh the rapture…’
Some archaic words are explained in the glossary. Here are other words that you might usefully probe more closely:
Stanza 1: ‘lumbering’ gives the impression that the horses are moving in a slow, heavy and awkward way.
Stanza 2: pistons in the machines in an ancient mill are used to describe the movement of the horses’ hooves as the child
‘watched fearful’. The use of imagery drawn from the early industrial age is interesting in what it tells us about the child’s
Stanza 3: the word ‘conquering’ suggests a reference to an even earlier age. The word ‘ritual’ and the descriptions ‘seraphim
of gold’ and ‘ecstatic monsters’ hint at something pagan or pre-historic.
Stanza 4: the ‘rapture’ conveys a Romantic sense of worshipping these natural creatures: see lines 2 – 4.
Stanza 5: ‘glowing with mysterious fire’ links with the ‘magic power’, which describes the horses he sees in the present day
(in the first stanza).
Stanza 6: the powerful force of the horses is captured in the eyes gleaming with a ‘cruel apocalyptic light’. The religious
imagery follows on from the ‘struggling snakes’ of stanza 5.
Stanza 7: the repetition of ‘it fades’ suggests loss, straightforwardly the fading of his memory. ‘Pine’ means to feel a lingering,
often nostalgic desire.
Notice the shift in time in stanza 2. The rest of the poem deals with the speaker’s recollection of his feelings as a child. What
impression do you feel is created by the simile of the ‘pistons’?
The references in this stanza 3are to a pre-industrial age. Consider the effects of these words: ‘conquering hooves’, ‘ritual’,
‘seraphim of gold’ and ‘mute ecstatic monsters’. They should consult a dictionary where appropriate.
What do you make of the tone in stanza 4? Explore the words used to describe the horses, and to consider what they reveal
about the speaker’s attitude? What contrast is signalled by the use of ‘But when at dusk…’ at the beginning of stanza 5?
What do you make of ‘mysterious fire’ here and the ‘magic power’ attributed to the present-day horses in stanza 1?
Ask students to analyse the effectiveness of the imagery in stanza 6: the ‘cruel apocalyptic light’ of their eyes and the
personification of the wind.
How does the tone I the final stanza differ from the tone in other parts of the poem?
HUNTING SNAKE – Judith Wright
Judith Wright was an Australian writer, born in 1915; she died in 2000. She celebrated nature in many of her poems. In her
later life she was a conservationist and campaigned for the rights of Aboriginal peoples.
Wright’s poem recalls something of D. H. Lawrence’s poem Snake. There is the same awe-struck observation, a sense of
stopping dead in one’s tracks.
There are three useful areas of content to focus on:
· the description of the snake itself
· the effect the snake has on the speaker and her walking companion
· the brief mention of the creature being hunted
Each stanza has four lines; each line has eight syllables; the rhyme pattern is similar for the first three stanzas but not the
last: these are of course statements of the blindingly obvious. But a useful starting-point might be to focus on structure and
how the content is arranged within and across stanzas.
What do the words ‘grace’ and ‘gentlest’ convey? How is the suddenness of their stopping suggested? You should consider
the contrast between ‘Sun-warmed’ and ‘froze’.
Look at the words which describe the physical qualities of the snake. The word ‘reeling’ is interesting. Look up meanings of
the word in a dictionary. In what ways might it apply to the people as well as the snake?
Consider the majestic qualities of the snake. You might consider the force of ‘the parting grass’, ‘glazed’, ‘diamond’ and ‘we
Consider the effect of the alliteration in ‘food’, ‘fled’ and ‘fierce’ (in stanza three).
You should chart the reactions of the speaker and her companion to the snake as described in each stanza. How do the
words used convey their reactions? What do you make of the poem’s final two lines and their relationship to the rest of the poem?
PIKE – Ted Hughes
Ted Hughes was born in Mytholmroyd in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England in 1930. His poetry discards Romantic notions
about the natural world. He became British Poet Laureate in 1984 and was so until his death in 1998.
In Pike Hughes offers a far from Romantic view of nature in his depiction of this primitive and malevolent fish.
Stanzas 1 – 4 offers a mix of objective description (‘green tigering the gold’) and subjective description (‘their own grandeur).
Stanzas 5 – 7 include what appears to be personal anecdote of three pike kept at home inside an aquarium and then the
grisly description of two large pike that had been locked in deadly combat: ‘One jammed past its gills down the other’s
Stanzas 8 – 11 mingles personal recollection (‘A pond I fished, fifty years across’) with reflection.
Listening to the recording of Hughes reading the poem. It can be found on the www.poetryarchive.org website:
Here Hughes gives a brief account of how he came to write the poem in the introduction to his reading.
Stanzas 1 – 4
List what facts they learn about pike and their habitat. How does the use of colours add to the dramatic impact of Hughes’
Explore the effects of particular words or phrases: e.g. ‘Killers from the egg’, ‘malevolent aged grin’, ‘submarine delicacy and
horror’, ‘The jaws’ hooked clamp and fangs’, ‘gills kneading quietly’. What do they make of the chilling line ‘A life subdued to
What qualities do you think Hughes attributes to pike? You might start a detailed exploration of the language with the first
and last lines of stanza two.
Stanzas 5 – 7
Explain what happens in stanza five, which is a good example of the economy of poetry. What impressions are conveyed by
the use of the word ‘jungled’? This is another instance of a noun being made into a verb (see ‘tigering’ in the first stanza) –
though there will of course be more to observe than that. How effective do you find the final two-word sentence ‘Finally
How does the description of the two pike that begins on the third line of stanza six and ends in the final line of stanza seven
make you feel? Consider the precise effects of the words which make you feel as you do. What does the simile ‘as a vice
locks’ add to the description?
Stanzas 8 – 11
Explain the shift in content and tone that occurs with stanza eight. The pond where the speaker went fishing in his youth is
described as ‘deep as England’. Consider this simile with its connotations of England’s rich history and also the more
immediate context of a boy fishing.
You should explore how Hughes conveys the eerie atmosphere and the boy’s fear in the final three stanzas. Look at the words and also to listen to the sounds. It is interesting to hear the long ‘o’ sound in ‘rose slowly towards’ in the last line. How effective do you find this use of assonance and other uses of sound devices in adding to the drama of the situation?
THE CITY PLANNERS – Margaret Atwood
Born in Canada in 1939, Atwood is an established poet, novelist and literary critic, perhaps best known to many as author of
the dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale (published in 1985).
The poem begins with a satirical attack on the sterile uniformity of the residential suburbs. People are conspicuous by their
absence in her descriptions. In the first stanza the speaker declares: ‘what offends us is / the sanities’. The sanities include
houses in pedantic rows, sanitary trees and discouraged grass. There is nothing untoward; even the ‘whine’ of a power
mower is described in an oxymoron as ‘rational’. In stanza two, however, ‘certain things’ are listed that ‘give momentary
access to / the landscape behind or under / the future cracks… (stanza three). These things have the effect of disturbing the
order: the smell of oil, a splash of paint, a plastic hose ‘poised in a vicious / coil’ (suggestive of a snake) and ‘the too fixed
stare of the wide windows’. Stanza three anticipates the effects of the destructive power of nature with houses described as
sliding into the clay seas ‘gradual as glaciers / that right now nobody notices’. The last few words of stanza three lead on to
the ‘City Planners’ in stanza four, with their ‘insane faces of political conspirators’. The final three stanzas convey the futility
of planning, ‘guessing directions’ as the planners ‘sketch transitory lines’ in their attempts to impose order on the suburbs.
The planners are described as remote figures ‘concealed from each other, / each in his own private blizzard’.
What are your impressions of the suburbs described in the first stanza? Make sure you have evidence from the stanza to
support your points.
What evidence is there to suggest that the speaker is an outsider looking in? Consider the first two lines and also the
significance of the dent in the speaker’s car door. What does the word ‘rebuke’ refer to?
Make a list of the words/phrases that capture the speaker’s disapproving tone and to comment on the precise effects
created. For example, what effects do they feel are created by the underlined words in this quotation: ‘nothing more abrupt
/ than the rational whine of a power mower’? What do they make of the oxymoron ‘rational whine’?
How do other words in the stanza convey the soulless atmosphere of the suburb?
Consider the contrast between the first and second stanzas. What do they make of the driveways that ‘neatly / sidestep
hysteria / by being even’? What do the words ‘sanities’ and ‘hysteria’ have in common? And how are they different?
The syntax is somewhat complex. You will need to link the ‘certain things’ to what the speakers say they do (i.e. ‘give
momentary access to…’) in stanza three. List the things and to consider the words and sounds used to describe them. For
example, how do you interpret the ‘too fixed stare’ of the wide windows?
Consider the effectiveness of the concise line ‘certain things’ and its positioning within this stanza.
Look the image of nature presented in stanza 3 and comment closely on the effects of key words such as ‘capsized’, ‘slide
obliquely’ and also the simile of the glacier.
Probe closely the descriptions of the City Planners (note the capitals here). What attitude towards them is revealed in these
descriptions? Consider the following adjectives in relation to the planners’ actions: misguided, ignorant, futile. Which of
these adjectives (or any adjectives they might themselves suggest) best describes the planners here?
It is difficult to see in a blizzard: how effective do they find the use of the blizzard metaphor in stanza four?
How is their attitude towards the planners affected by what they read in stanza three?
How do you feel the final two lines should be read, and how effective do you find the metaphors ‘panic of suburb’ and ‘bland
madness of snows’?
THE PLANNERS – Boey Kim Cheng
Boey Kim Cheng was born in Singapore in 1965. He now lives and works in Australia.
After the title, the planners are referred to anonymously as ‘they’ six times. The word is used twice in the first line and
appears at the beginning of the first and second stanzas. ‘They’ are presented as all-powerful: nothing can stop them. In
stanza one there is a sameness and uniformity about the city which creates an exact but soulless landscape (similar to that of the residential suburb in Atwood’s The City Planners). The buildings are ‘in alignment’ and meet roads at ‘desired points’. The
stanza ends with personification of both the sea that ‘draws back’ and the skies that ‘surrender’ in the face of such progress.
In stanza two there is a sense that history is being erased: the ‘flaws’ and ‘blemishes of the past’. The drilling, we are told,
‘goes right through / the fossils of last century’. Anything not up to scratch is removed: ‘knock off / useless blocks with dental
dexterity’. An extended dentistry metaphor runs through the stanza. The line ‘Anaesthesia, amnesia, hypnosis’ is followed by
‘They [the planners] have the means’. This is an interesting line to consider, especially after considering the definitions of
anaesthesia – state of having sensation blocked
amnesia – condition in which memory is disturbed or lost
hypnosis – sleep-like state in which the mind responds to external suggestion.
In the light of the first two stanzas, what do you make of the final stanza, beginning ‘But my heart would not bleed / poetry’.
The words ‘single drop’ and ‘stain’ extend the blood/bleeding metaphor. The contrast between the final and first two stanzas
could not be more marked.
Probe the effects of particular words in stanza one. The words ‘gridded’, permutations of possibilities’, ‘points’, ‘grace of
mathematics’ are associated (broadly) with mathematics. What does their use here reveal about the speaker’s attitude
towards planners and city planning?
Explore the personification of the sea and skies in the final two lines of stanza one. What do the images suggest about the
relationship between man (more specifically, planners) and nature? What do you think is the speaker’s view of planners?
Consider the effect of the repetition of the word ‘They’ and also where each instance of the word appears in the poem.
List each reference to dentistry and dental work in stanza two, and consider closely the effect created by using each
word/phrase. Consult a dictionary for relevant meanings of the words in the line ‘Anaesthesia, amnesia, hypnosis’. Then
consider what contribution this line makes to the poem as a whole. What does it reveal about the speaker’s attitude towards
Re-read the poem’s first two stanzas again, practising getting right the tone (and any shifts in tone). Then you should
consider the meaning of the last stanza (beginning ‘But’) and its relationship to the rest of the poem.
What do you make of the ‘bleed poetry’ metaphor in the context of the poem? His heart would not bleed ‘a single drop / to
stain the blueprint / of our past’s tomorrow’. How do you interpret this, and do you find it an effective ending to the poem?
SUMMER FARM – Norman MacCaig
Norman MacCaig was born in Scotland in 1910 and died in 1996. Summer Farm contains MacCaig’s characteristic blend of
writing about nature and personal reflection.
The poem splits nicely into two parts:
· The first two stanzas offer descriptions of aspects of nature, chiefly concerned with what the speaker sees.
· The final two stanzas focus on the speaker: ‘I lie, not thinking, in the cool, soft grass, / Afraid of where a thought
might take me…’
In this way the poem charts a movement away from the concrete to the abstract. The first two stanzas include descriptions
which are certainly original, perhaps even startling: e.g. ‘Straws like tame lightnings’, ‘ducks go wobbling’, ‘the dizzy blue’.
The mention, in stanza three, of fear ‘of where a thought might take me’ and the speaker’s description of himself as ‘a pile of
selves’ contribute to a more reflective and philosophical mood and type of writing. The speaker talks about lifting the lid of
the farm ‘with a metaphysic hand’. He ends the poem by stating that he is ‘in the centre’ of the farm. The phrases ‘Self under
self’ and ‘Farm within farm’ perhaps convey the sense that he is only part of a long sequence of people connected with the
farm. This is perhaps the thought that he was too afraid to countenance earlier in stanza three.
List the things the speaker sees in the first two stanzas, and then consider the precise effects created by the specific words
used in MacCaig’s descriptions. For example, how effective do you find the lightning simile in describing the straw and the
phrase ‘hang zigzag on hedges’?
How effective are the descriptions of:
· the water in the trough
· the ducks
· the hen
· the swallow
· the sky (‘empty’, ‘the dizzy blue’).
Comment on the contrast (in subject matter and tone) between the first two stanzas and the final two stanzas. You could
record their judgements in a table with two columns headed ‘Stanza 1’ and ‘Stanza 2’.
What is the speaker actually doing in stanzas three and four? What is the significance of the grasshopper which ‘finds himself
Consider closely the possible meanings and effects of the following similes and metaphors in the final stanza:
‘Self under self, a pile of selves I stand / Threaded on time’ [What does ‘Threaded’ mean here?]
‘Lift the farm like a lid and see / Farm within farm…’
‘…in the centre, me.’
You should consider in what way the final stanza might explain these words from stanza three: ‘Afraid of where a thought
might take me’.
Comment on the effectiveness of the poem’s structure in relation to its subject-matter. You might consider the stanza
arrangement and the effects of particular rhymes.
WHERE I COME FROM – Elizabeth Brewster
Elizabeth Brewster is a Canadian poet and academic, born in 1922. The description in the second stanza of this poem
captures something of the rural Canada of her early years.
The first sentence in the first line is exemplified in the remainder of the first stanza. People have within them (in their
characters) something of the places where they live or perhaps where they were born. She lists jungles, mountains, seas and
the city. The greater part of the first stanza is devoted to city-dwellers in museums, glue factories, offices and subways.
Stanza two marks a shift from the city to a rural context, and with it perhaps a shift from present to past. The stanza begins
with a repetition of the title ‘Where I come from’. As with stanza one, there is a succession of images, though this time drawn
from the countryside. The images are parts of the people’s minds: pine woods, blueberry patches, farmhouses, and ‘battered
schoolhouses / behind which violets grow’.
The final four lines (straddling stanzas two and three) are central to the poem, and help to explain the formative influences
on the speaker’s mind. The focus is on the ‘chief’ seasons of spring and winter: ‘ice and the breaking of ice’. The final line of
the poem contributes to the wintry description with ‘a frosty wind from fields of snow’. The metaphor of the door in the
mind that ‘blows open’ demonstrates vividly the importance of the sense of place the speaker carries with her in her own
Divide a sheet of paper in two and list:
· the places in stanza one
· the places in stanza two.
Then consider the words and sounds used to describe each place. Which places do you feel are described more approvingly
and which places less approvingly? You should justify their views by close reference to the poem, always commenting on the
precise effects created by particular words.
Is there a sense that the description is uneven (with more given to the rural places)? Why do you think this is?
From your reading of the poem, what do you feel is the tone of stanza two? What effect is created by the phrases: ‘burnedout
bush’, ‘in need of paint’ and ‘battered schoolhouses’? What effect is created by the juxtaposition of violets growing
behind the battered schoolhouses?
You should next read the final four lines of the poem. How do they reveal the speaker’s thoughts and feelings? What is
meant by ‘Spring and winter / are the mind’s chief seasons’? How does this link with the content of the final two-line stanza?
How effective is the metaphor ‘A door in the mind blows open’? How does this connect with the final line and the central
idea of the poem?
Do you feel the poem has only a personal significance to the poet, or is it possible to detect a more universal significance? Is
the metaphor of a door blowing open one you can identify with in relation to a place you feel is important to you?
Which sounds in the poem do you find particularly striking, and why? Start by thinking about the sibilance in lines 4 and 5, or
the emphatic alliteration in ‘blueberry patches in the burned-out bush’. As always, you should think about the effects
created by the use of such devices.
Do you feel that other senses are used to powerful effect in the poem? Look for examples you find particularly striking, and
SONNET: COMPOSED UPON WESTMINSTER BRIDGE – William Wordsworth
Born in 1770 in the north of England, Wordsworth lived until the age of eighty. As a Romantic poet, he wrote of the beauty of
nature. The moment he captures in this poem is when he and his sister, Dorothy, stood on Westminster Bridge one early
morning before the city of London was awake.
Perhaps students could explore any similarities between Dorothy’s diary entry and her brother’s poem – see below.
The language of the poem is fairly straightforward. In addition to the words glossed in the anthology, the meanings of words
such as ‘majesty’ and ‘splendour’ might be given particular consideration as to how they are used in the poem. How do these
words reveal the speaker’s attitude, and how do they contribute to the overall mood?
This is a Petrarchan sonnet. The octave (first 8 lines) captures the beauty of this particular morning. Earth, personified, has
nothing more fair to show, which is praise indeed coming from this worshipper of nature. The city, personified, is wearing
only the beauty of the morning ‘like a garment’. The bare list of things in line 6 provides in an extremely economic way the
iconography of the city of London (largely familiar today – except for the ships). The rising sun makes everything ‘bright and
glittering’. The time of day is significant as such a beautiful image with its ‘smokeless air’ might be captured only before the
city wakes up and gets to work.
The sestet (last 6 lines) expresses the speaker’s view that the beauty of the city in early morning sunlight surpasses that of
‘valley, rock or hill’, more typical targets of praise in much romantic poetry. The effect on the poet’s mood is considerable:
‘Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!’
The final three lines have three instances of personification: of the river, the houses and the city itself, with ‘all that mighty
List all the views expressed by the speaker, starting with that expressed in the first line. You should annotate a copy of the
poem, showing the effects of particular words: for example, what do they make of ‘so touching in its majesty’?
Consider Wordsworth’s use of description in the octave. How effective do you find the simile ‘like a garment wear / The
beauty of the morning’? And the simple list used in line six? How important do they feel is the time of day and the mention of
‘smokeless air’ to the mood? Look for and comment on any change in subject-matter or change in tone, or any development in the argument, which
occurs in the sestet. Why do they think people are absent from the poem?
Explain the speaker’s feeling of ‘a calm so deep’, making sure you provide pertinent reference to the poem. How do you feel
the last three lines of the sestet contribute to the poem’s mood?
Find all the examples of hyperbole, personification and sound devices Wordsworth uses. As always, such notes should focus
on the precise effects created by using specific devices. This is not an invitation to simply log features. Select an example yiu
find particularly memorable, and explain how Wordsworth’s writing makes it so.
A BIRTHDAY – Christina Rossetti
Christina Rossetti was born in England in 1820 and died in 1894. She wrote this poem when she was twenty-seven. Perhaps
nowadays she is more famous for her poem Remember and the words of the Christmas carol In the Bleak Midwinter.
The title of the poem makes sense when the final two lines of the poem are read. Here her love coming to her is described as
‘the birthday of my life’.
The poem is saturated with sensuous vocabulary, which you should explore fully. Unfamiliar words such as ‘dais’ and archaic
words such as ‘vair’ are explained in the glossary.
There is a clear contrast between the content of each stanza. The first deals with actual images of nature and the second with
the artificial and exotic images of nature (e.g. ‘gold and silver grapes’).
The first stanza describes the extent of the speaker’s happiness. The final line makes it clear that she is happier than all the
things she describes because her love is coming to her. In the second stanza she wishes to immerse herself in rich and
beautiful surroundings in order to celebrate her love coming to her.
How would you read the three imperative verbs which relate to the act of creating something (‘Raise’, ‘Carve’, ‘Work’) in the
second stanza? What other features of sound can they identify, and what effects do they create?
Explore the idyllic natural images in the first stanza: of the singing-bird, apple-tree and rainbow shell. What do the words
(and sounds) reveal about the speaker’s mood? Do you think this is all about happiness, as the last two lines of the first
stanza would seem to suggest: ‘My heart is gladder than all these’?
Consider how Rossetti vividly conveys the exotic nature of the things she describes in stanza two.
Note contrasts between the two stanzas, both in their content and style. You might usefully compare the last two lines of
Consider the significance of the title and how do you think Rossetti uses the word in the poem’s penultimate line?
THE WOODSPURGE – Dante Gabriel Rossetti
This poem is written by Christina Rossetti’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1892). Leading light of the Pre-Raphaelite
movement, he was as famous for his painting as for his poetry. This poem was written in 1856.
The title suggests that the woodspurge will be at the centre of the poem, but there is in fact no detailed description of this
wild plant. Having stared at it during a mood of depression, the speaker learns just one thing about it: ‘The woodspurge has a
cup of three’. The tone is matter-of-fact. The earlier mentions of ‘grass’ and ‘ten weeds’ are not described in any poetic detail
either. What there is of nature in the poem is used as a backdrop for the speaker’s depressed state of mind. He is carried
along somewhat aimlessly by the wind until it stops. He sits down, his hair touching the grass, and among the weeds he
notices the woodspurge. He seems to be in this position for some time: ‘My naked ears heard the day pass’. We do not,
however, learn what has caused him to be so sad and miserable.
The relative lack of description and the simple language perhaps serve to reinforce the speaker’s gloomy state of mind. There
is an unusual insistent rhyme scheme (AAAA, BBBB etc.) and many of the lines are monosyllabic. These features, too, may
play a role in conveying the speaker’s unhappy state of mind. Consider how this might be the case by selecting examples and
commenting on precise effects.
Consider the force of the end rhymes and the use of monosyllables in conveying the mood in the first stanza. You should
explore the description of the wind (the word ‘wind’ appears four times) and the effect it has on the speaker.
What are your impressions of the speaker from the first two stanzas? What do you make of his physical position and of the
words he speaks? Do you find him a sympathetic figure (or perhaps overly melodramatic)? How do you respond to the
repetition of ‘My’?
Do you think that stanza three depicts an authentic picture of depression? Or might it seem contrived? Re-read the poem
again and consider what significance the title has to the whole poem. What do you think are the poem’s deeper meanings?
Does the woodspurge have a symbolic significance? Does it have to? Consider the first two lines of the final stanza. What
effect is created by the use of oxymoron ‘perfect grief’? Do these lines provide the key to the poem’s meaning? Or do other
lines provide the key? Support their answers by close reference to the words of the poem.