Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mirror by Sylvia Plath

The poetess, Sylvia Plath, by making the mirror speak in the poem, ‘Mirror’, gives it life and uses it to explore the theme of change, decay, old age and death.

Lines 1 to 3: The mirror makes factual statements that it is made of silver and is precise in its job of reflection. It has no preconceived notions or ideas and so whatever appears before it, it takes in (swallows) immediately just as each thing is and reflects it back without distortion (unmisted), without being influenced by emotions, prejudices or ideas of love and hate.

Lines 4, 5: But it has no intention of being cruel. It wants to be truthful. It compares itself to the eyes of a little god having four corners as it can see and reflect everything in front of it.

Lines 6 to 10: Most of the time it reflects the pink worn out wall opposite it so much so that the wall has become a part of its personality. But its reflection of the opposite wall is broken (flickers) over and over again by faces that come to look into it and by darkness or night.

Lines 10, 11: The mirror compares itself to a lake. A lake is deep and when it reflects back a person, it seems to reflect him from its depth. So when a person looks into the mirror, it not only reflects back his physical appearance but through it, it reflects the depth of his self. A woman bends over the mirror (the lake) searching deep into the mirror to find out what she really is.

Lines 12 to 14: Dissatisfied with what she sees, she turns to the moonlight and the candles for consolation whom the mirror calls ‘liars’ as their dim light deceives by concealing her defects and her age. But the mirror continues to reflect her back faithfully the way she is. The woman bursts into tears and restlessly moves her hand as she realises she is aging and losing her beauty from the mirror’s reflection.

Lines 15,16: In spite of reflecting her truthfully, she considers the mirror important to keep checking herself. She visits it regularly especially in the morning.

Lines 17, 18: The woman has been looking into the mirror from the time she was a young girl. She seems to have drowned her youth in the mirror which compares itself to a lake. The mirror stands for the passage of time. The present reflection of the woman is compared to a terrible fish rising from the depths of the lake. It is a terrible fish because it reflects her old age and loss of beauty and is a reminder to her the old age and death are creeping closer towards her day by day.

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Ode to the West Wind By PB Shelley

Lines 1 to 5: The poet calls the West Wind wild and the breath of autumn. The unseen wind carries the dead leaves from the trees and spreads them on the ground. This is compared to (simile) ghosts running away from a magician. The leaves are also compared to (metaphor) a crowd afflicted by plague because they are black, red, yellow and pale.

Lines 6 to 12: The West Wind carries the winged seeds like a chariot to the cold winter ground where they lie like (simile) dead bodies in the grave of the soil till the East Wind blows in spring. The East Wind is the West Wind’s sister and is called ‘azure sister’, because it blows during spring when the sky is clear and deep blue in colour. It wakes up the earth that has been sleeping and dreaming during winter by announcing the arrival of spring which fills the plains and hills with colours and smells of flowers.

Lines 13, 14: The poet calls the West Wind that is moving everywhere destroyer and preserver. It is a destroyer because it prepares the trees for winter, which is symbolically the season of death, by bringing down the leaves and seeds. It is also a preserver because by bringing down the dead leaves and seeds it prepares everything for a new birth in spring.

Lines 15 to 21: The West Wind brings along with it clouds which are messengers of lightning and rain. These clouds are compared to (simile) dead leaves being shed from the tangled branches of the tree of heaven and ocean. The clouds spread across the sky by the West Wind are compared to (simile) the uplifted hair of a female follower of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine and fertility.

Lines 21 to 23: The clouds are spread from the horizon to the zenith (metaphor) like the hair of the approaching storm. The storm is personified here.

Lines 24 to 28: The poet calls the West Wind the funeral song of the year coming to an end. The night sky or the autumn or winter sky becomes the dome of a vast sepulchre enclosing the dying earth. Within this sepulchre is enclosed the West wind with all its might and filled with clouds that will bring forth rain, lightning and hail.

Lines 29 to 36: The West Wind blowing in autumn wakes up the Mediterranean Sea from its summer sleep. It seems to have been put to sleep by the clear, winding streams emptying into it in Baeae’s Bay. The sea reflects old palaces and towers covered by moss and flowers along its shores and the shadows of these in the calm waters tremble in the ripples and in the summer heat. The scene is so sweet that one would faint while describing it.

Lines 36 to 41: The West Wind splits the calm and the level Atlantic Ocean causing huge chasms on its surface; it affects the bottom of the ocean too. The underwater sapless plants are depicted as getting frightened and spoiling themselves.

Lines 43 to 47: The poet wishes he were a dead leaf or a swift cloud or a wave to experience the West Wind’s power and share in its strength. He is only a little less free than the uncontrollable West Wind.

Lines 48 to 53: If the poet were as he was in his boyhood, full of energy and life when he could have easily beaten the West Wind in speed, he would not have asked the West Wind’s help.

Lines 53 to 56: He asks the West wind to lift him like a wave, a leaf or a cloud so that he could be freed from the thorns (metaphor) or problems of life. He too is wild, swift and proud like the West wind. But now he is chained and bent by the problems of life.

Lines 57 to 61: The poet asks the West Wind to make him its lyre like the forest and produce sad but sweet autumnal music. Indirectly he is asking the wind to share its powers (Be … My Spirit! Be thou me)and inspire him so that he can produce sweet poetry.

Lines 61 to 64: He asks the West Wind to spread his unaccepted ideas to the world so that they can give birth to a new way of life (simile) just as dead leaves help seeds to sprout.

Lines 65 to 69: By reciting poetry, he hopes to scatter his words (simile) like ashes and sparks from an undying fire.

Line 70: He expresses optimism (hope) that just as spring follows winter, his sadness will be followed by joy, and his ideas which were not accepted would be accepted.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Written in Early Spring by William Wordsworth

I HEARD a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:--
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

In the poem, ‘Written in Early Spring’, Wordsworth feels sad about the fact that man alone among all creation is neither in harmony with his own kind nor with nature.

The poet is seated relaxed against a tree in a shady clump of trees listening to the music of the breeze, the chirping of birds and the creaking of insects. He is in the sweetest of moods. But along with pleasant thoughts in his mind at that moment, sad thoughts too arise.
Nature seems to have linked his soul with her soul in perfect communion. In that blessed mood, he is saddened to realize what man has done to his fellowmen and to nature. Man has inflicted pain on his own fellowmen and has destroyed nature.

The periwinkle intertwines itself on the primrose in perfect coexistence and the poet believes that every flower seems to enjoy the air it breathes. The poet is trying to say that the plants and the flowers coexist peacefully and seem to derive pleasure from their living.
Similarly, the birds seem to be in harmony and seem to derive pleasure in their movements of hopping and playing. In the same way the poet feels that the fresh branches seem to experience pleasure as they spread out into the air to catch it.

In the last stanza, the poet sums up what he has said. He feels that if the divine plan or ‘Nature’s holy plan’ is pleasurable and peaceful coexistence, he wonders why man alone has moved away from this plan. Only man lives in discord with himself and the rest of creation.

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The Noble Nature by Ben Jonson

It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make Man better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere:
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night -
It was the plant and flower of Light
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures life may perfect be.

The poet, Ben Jonson, in the poem ‘The Noble Nature’, talks about what makes a man noble. He compares man to a sturdy oak and to a delicate lily in order to do this.
Growing physically like a bulky tree or living long like a sturdy oak does not make a man a noble being. The huge, strong and aged oak will soon become a lifeless, ‘dry’ and withered piece of log. So too will be the fate of a man who is only blessed with long life and physical and material well being.
The lily plant has a short life. It blooms in May and is very beautiful. Although the flower has the life span of a day and falls and dies by nightfall, it spreads beauty and delight in that short period. The poet feels that a meaningful life like the lily flower, though short, is what makes a man noble and even though a man’s life is short it can be a perfect life.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Snakecharmer by Sylvia Path

As the gods began one world, and man another,
So the snakccharmer begins a snaky sphere
With moon-eye, mouth-pipe. He pipes. Pipes green. Pipes water.
Pipes water green until green waters waver
With reedy lengths and necks and undulatings.
And as his notes twine green, the green river
Shapes its images around his songs.
He pipes a place to stand on, but no rocks,
No floor: a wave of flickering-grass tongues

Supports his foot. He pipes a world of snakes,
Of sways and coilings, from the snake-rooted bottom
Of his mind. And now nothing but snakes

Is visible. The snake-scales have become
Leaf, become eyelid; snake-bodies, bough, breast
Of tree and human. And he within this snakedom

Rules the writhings which make manifest
His snakehood and his might with pliant tunes
From his thin pipe. Out of this green nest

As out of Eden's navel twist the lines
Of snaky generations: let there be snakes!
And snakes there were, are, will be-till yawns

Consume this piper and he tires of music
And pipes the world back to the simple fabric
Of snake-warp, snake-weft. Pipes the cloth of snakes

To a melting of green water, tiII no snake
Shows its head, and those green waters back to
Water, to green, to nothing like a snake.
Puts up his pipe, and lids his moony eye.

Creation is a theme dealt with in all religious philosophies. The creator of all things is called God and man, the peak of creation, is also a creator in a limited sense. He thinks, acts and produces art, literature, technology, architecture and so on. The artist was considered and is considered even now as the prime creator among men. The poet creates too and in the poem ‘Snakecharmer’, Sylvia Plath does just that and more. She creates the character of the snake charmer depicting him as a creator, the creator of the world of snakes. The snake charmer could also denote Satan and he creates the world of evil. This meaning can be give with reference to the story of Adam and Eve.

She begins the poem by saying that just as gods and men begin worlds, meaning create, so does the snake charmer begin ‘a snaky sphere’, here ‘sphere’ standing for the ‘world’ of snakes. The instruments he uses are the ‘mouth-pie’ through which he blows hypnotic music and his ‘moon eye’. The tune issuing forth out of the mouth pipe can be compared to the words of Jehovah, as quoted in the Book of Genesis of the Bible, who created through His words and His first words were “let there be light”. ‘Moon eye’ could denote dreamy or hypnotic eye that can hypnotise the snakes or the ability of Satan/Evil to hynotise people into doing evil.

Plath then uses the image of water to speak about the world of snakes as water stands for life and creation. The charmer ‘pipes water green’ until the water flickers and like reeds, the snakes move. His notes make the ‘green river’ of snakes ‘twine’ or coil ‘around his songs’. The words ‘twine’ ‘around his songs’ seem to suggest that the snake charmer knows the world of snakes and controls their movements from the ‘snake-rooted bottom of his mind’. Green water could also be the symbol of greed, lust and jealousy, the vices that cause man to be evil.

The snake is compared to a tree and a human. The snake scales are compared to leaves and eyelids, and snake bodies compared to boughs and the breast of man. Again the control of the snake charmer over the snakes is stressed by saying that he ‘rules’ over his ‘snakedom’. The snake ‘writhings’ seem to take their essence from ‘his snakehood’ and ‘his might’. Satan is mighty in the world of Evil.

Just as man began his history from the Garden of Eden, so too has the snaky generation evolved from Eden’s navel. The allusion is to the serpent in the Garden of Eden mentioned in the Book of Genesis. Just as God made all things with the words “Let there be …”, so has the snake charmer uttered the words ‘let there be snakes’ and there were, are and will be snakes.

When the charmer tires of playing the pipe, he pipes the snake world back to the green water. For some time he creates and commands totally a tantalizing world of snakes and like God capable of destroying what he has made, he un-creates the world of snakes.

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Poetry by Marianne Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important
beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it,
one discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not be-
cause a

high sounding interpretation can be put upon them
but because they are
useful; when they become so derivative as to
become unintelligible, the
same thing may be said for all of us – that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand. The bat,
holding on upside down or in quest of some-
thing to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll,
a tireless wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a
horse that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician – case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; nor is it valid
to discriminate against "business documents

school-books"; all these phenomena are important.
One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half
the result is not poetry,
nor till the autocrats among us can be
"literalists of
the imagination" – above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads
in them, shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on one hand,
in defiance of their opinion –
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness, and
that which is on the other hand,
genuine, then you are interested in poetry.

Marianne Moore deftly deals with various aspects of poetry and writing poems in the poem, ‘Poetry’. She discusses about what good poetry does, the possible content of poetry, bad poetry and bad poems in the guise of good poems, and she also has a dig at critics. At the same time she shrewdly avoids defining poetry in clear terms. Instead she defines poetry in terms of what it should avoid being.

She opens the poem subtly with the words, ‘I, too, dislike it’ echoing the sentiments of a good number of people’s dislike for poetry as like them she believes that there are things more important than all this ‘fiddle’ or play with words. Yet the irony is that she, like the others, reads poetry.

But she concedes that in spite of reading a poem with ‘a perfect contempt’, one ‘discovers’ in it ‘genuine’ feelings and emotions and an appeal to the senses. The poem becomes important because it is ‘useful’ in getting in touch with one’s feelings and not because (here is where Moore has a dig at critics) a ‘high-sounding interpretation’ can be given to them. In fact, if a poem becomes too derivative, i.e. not original, and is not derived from true personal experience it becomes ‘unintelligible’. Just as ‘we do not admire / what we cannot understand’ we cannot appreciate unintelligible poetry.

She goes on to say that almost anything can become the subject of poetry, as varied as a ‘bat holding on upside down’, ‘the immovable critic’, ‘the statistician’ or ‘business documents’. What she warns poets is not to drag them into prominence by giving them undue importance and special treatment.

Moore then attempts at giving guidelines for what good poets should try to do while composing poems. She uses oxymoronic and almost paradoxical phrases to state her case. The words ‘literalists of imagination’ and ‘imaginary gardens with real toads in them’ define how a poet should attempt to write good poetry. He should strike a balance between reality and imagination. ‘Imagination’ is opposed to ‘literalism’ but the oxymoronic phrase conveys subtly the need to balance reality and imagination. Similarly ‘imaginary gardens’ are opposed to ‘real toads’ in them. Again the odd juxtaposing of words exquisitely presents the need to maintain balance. Then one avoids ‘insolence’ and ‘triviality’ in one’s poems.

Moore concludes her poem by addressing the reader as well. She makes this conclusion from what she has been saying. She feels that the reader is interested in poetry if he demands ‘rawness’ in the poems he reads. Authenticity in feeling and imaginative expression coupled with raw experience is what a reader should look for in poetry. This poem by Moore in some sense meets the standards she has set about poetry and writing poems.

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Enterprise By Nissim Ezekial

The poem ‘Enterprise’ looks deceptively simple and direct and yet becomes complex as one tries to peel its many layered meanings. The poet speaks about a bold and difficult journey as the enterprise that a group of people are undertaking. The journey seems to have ‘started as a pilgrimage’, for the purpose of ennobling minds and ‘making all the burdens light’, giving it a spiritual connotation. As the poem progresses one gets the impression that the journey is made by a group of people, possibly poets or writers. Yet again one gets the feeling that the journey seems to stand for the poets or writers’ own journey of life, of how they initially start their literary lives with verve and daring. In course of time the initial euphoria rubs off.

The poet says that the second stage of their journey was primarily exploration without being severely tested and the word ‘rage’ in the line ‘the sun beat down to match our rage’ seems to suggest the vigour, passion and enthusiasm with which the young group of writers took up the challenge of writing something revolutionary and inspirational. ‘The sun beat down’ could refer metaphorically to the obstacles that stood in their way. However, it was a successful stage where they ‘observed’, made ‘copious notes’ of everyday life, the way of the cunning people (serpents) and the simple people (goats) and the life in the cities where the ‘sage’ taught. The word ‘sage’ could refer to ancient wisdom found in ancient texts.

Differences arose when they met with contentious issues or when inspiration ran dry (desert patch) in their journey and they lost one from their group who was the best prose writer. The ‘shadow’ of differences grew. The journey got tougher when they were twice attacked by critics and ‘lost’ their perspective. A section of their group decided to part ways due to the onslaught. The leader of the group seemed to provide consolation and encouragement when he said that he ‘smelt the sea’, that is, the end of the journey.

The irony of the end stages of the journey was that they as writers ‘noticed nothing as they went’. They no longer observed and took copious notes. They were a ‘struggling crowd of little hope’ treading on, ignoring warnings and personal discomfort. At the end of the journey they were ‘broken’ or ‘bent’ hardly knowing why they were there. The words ‘broken’ and ‘bent’ are apt and powerful words that depict graphically the decline, confusion and disillusionment in the lives of writers. They had forgotten what they had started out with. The trip had exhausted them and they had not done anything great or rare.

The last line of the poem can be understood in so many ways and provides the punch line for the whole poem. Two meanings stand out. The journey of the group ends at home. They have to return to the original zealous ideas and thoughts that they had started out with. The second meaning could mean something entirely different. ‘Home’ could refer to the poet’s own consciousness - experiences, feelings and emotions – that acts as raw material to write authentically and without disillusionment. The poet’s own mind is the storehouse welling with material for writing. So the enterprise or journey is a metaphor for an artist’s life.

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A Walk by Moonlight By Derozio

Last night — it was a lovely night,
And I was very blest —
Shall it not be for Memory
A happy spot to rest?

Yes; there are in the backward past
Soft hours to which we turn —
Hours which, at distance, mildly shine,
Shine on, but never burn.

And some of these but yesternight
Across my path were thrown,
Which made my heart so very light,
I think it could have flown.

I had been out to see a friend
With whom I others saw:
Like minds to like minds ever tend —
An universal law.

And when we were returning home,
"Come who will walk with me,
A little way", I said, and lo!
I straight was joined by three:

Three whom I loved — two had high thoughts
And were, in age, my peers;
And one was young, but oh! endeared
As much as youth endears.

The moon stood silent in the sky,
And looked upon our earth:
The clouds divided, passing by,
In homage to her worth.

There was a dance among the leaves
Rejoicing at her power,
Who robes for them of silver weaves
Within one mystic hour.

There was a song among the winds,
Hymning her influence —
That low-breathed minstrelsy which binds
The soul to thought intense.

And there was something in the night
That with its magic wound us;
For we — oh! we not only saw,
But felt the moonlight around us.

How vague are all the mysteries
Which bind us to our earth;
How far they send into the heart
Their tones of holy mirth;

How lovely are the phantoms dim
Which bless that better sight,
That man enjoys when proud he stands
In his own spirit's light;

When, like a thing that is not ours.
This earthliness goes by,
And we behold the spiritualness
Of all that cannot die.

'Tis then we understand the voice
Which in the night-wind sings,
And feel the mystic melody
Played on the forest's strings.

The silken language of the stars
Becomes the tongue we speak,
And then we read the sympathy
That pales the young moon's cheek.

The inward eye is open then
To glories, which in dreams
Visit the sleeper's couch, in robes
Woven of the rainbow's beams.

I bless my nature that I am
Allied to all the bliss,
Which other worlds we're told afford,
But which I find in this.

My heart is bettered when I feel
That even this human heart
To all around is gently bound,
And forms of all a part;

That, cold and lifeless as they seem,
The flowers, the stars, the sky
Have more than common minds may deem
To stir our sympathy.

Oh! in such moments can I crush
The grass beneath my feet?
Ah no; the grass has then a voice,
Its heart — I hear it beat.

In the poem, ‘A Walk by Moonlight’, Derozio not only recounts an experience but also vividly describes the effect of such an experience on his mind and heart. The effect is profound and mind blowing, and the experience radically changes his perception. He relates about his walk back home on a moonlit night with his friends whom he ‘loved’ and esteemed and who were like-minded.

The poet was returning home one night with three of his friends after visiting another friend. The night was a ‘lovely night’ for the ‘moon stood silent in the sky’ and the ‘clouds divided’ ‘in homage to her worth’. She robed the dancing leaves with ‘silver weaves’. The poet feels that such a night was one of those ‘happy spots’ of memory of his past which never burns or fades away but shines on gently.

The poet gradually moves from the physical description of night to what the scene does to him. The ‘song among the winds’ made the poet focus his thoughts. The night created magic around them. They not only ‘saw’ with their eyes but ‘felt’ with all their senses the beautiful moon lit night. In this mood, the mystery of life was heightened and it evoked in their hearts awe and ‘holy mirth’. The scene brought about a mood which in turn made the poet’s mind alert and awake. Such a mind, the poet thinks, is a ‘light’ to itself. It perceives better and everything looks lovely. In such a state one apprehends the ‘ spiritualness’ or the permanence of ‘all that cannot die’ going beyond the ‘earthiness’ of the world of impermanent matter.

The poet then views nature – night wind, stars, the moon – not as inanimate but as full of life. Such a state has his ‘inward eye’ open to glories that seem to appear only in dreams. The bliss of heaven is experienced here on earth by the poet. The peak of perception that the poet arrives at is when he feels his human heart ‘gently bound’ to everything and forming ‘of all a part’ which in other words is communion and interconnectedness with the whole of nature. The flowers, the stars and the sky are then not ‘cold and lifeless as they seem’.

The poet reaches a climax in his experience which is expressed in the last stanza. In that moment of deep spiritual insight and heightened sensitivity, the poet feels that he cannot ‘crush’ the grass beneath his feet for he can ‘hear’ its heart ‘beat’.

The rhyme and the meter make the poem flow smoothly enhancing the theme of physical beauty of a moonlit night and its soothing, and spiritual and psychological effect on the poet’s soul.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

HOLY SONNETS. XIV. - Batter My Heart By John Donne

Batter My Heart

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

The poet uses unconventional (unusual) imagery (not the usual imagery used for God-man relationships) in each of the three quatrains to ask God passionately to reclaim him back from his life of sin to a life with God. The main idea behind the poem is Donne's desperate struggle to be at one with God; he feels he is losing the battle. He depicts the bonds preventing him from doing God's will through images of war, sex, and marriage.

Donne, opens with a dramatic exclamation:
Batter my heart, three person'd God
The force of this opening line is maintained throughout the poem, right to the last line with its 'you ravish mee'. The rhythm is an insistent hammering and the images are nearly all of violent action. The explosive 'B' of the opening word is continued in the alliteration of lines 3 and 4:
. . . and bendyour force, to breake, blowe, burn . . .

In the first quatrain (1st four lines), he uses the imagery (metaphor) of a blacksmith. He compares God to a blacksmith and himself to an object. He begs God not to just gently ‘knock’, ‘breathe’ ‘shine’ and try to mend him like a blacksmith trying to mend a dent in an object, but ‘batter’, ‘break’, ‘blow’ and ‘burn’ his heart so that God can create a new person (object) with a new heart. There is also the metaphor or image of a door used. His heart is compared to a door and he asks God not to gently knock but batter it to enter his heart. There is a hint of a paradox in these lines. To restore him or make him a new man he has to be destroyed first by God.

In the second quatrain, he uses the simile of a town forcibly taken from its rightful owner (war imagery). The town is compared to his heart and the owner to God. At present his heart has been captured by sin (to another due) as reason (reason is God’s viceroy as it is the faculty given by God to man to help man think and live a good life) has not been able to defend him but has been defeated (captiv’d) by desires of the body.

In the final quatrain, he uses yet another image, the image of marriage. He says that though he dearly loves God he is helpless as he is married (betroth’d) to God’s enemy, that is, to sin. Donne's imagery conveys the idea that the forces which bind him are not only very powerful but also deeply personal. To be 'betroth'd' to the devil implies a deep involvement. He pleads with God to apply his will and divorce him from the devil (untie, or break that knot again) and remarry him (take mee to you) so that he can be free from the devil. Here the poet uses a paradox, namely, that he has to be imprisoned (enthrall) in order to be free. If one is imprisoned one cannot be free. However the paradox is resolved because it is God who is captivating/imprisoning him so that he can be free from the devil and sin.

In the final line of the couplet, he uses yet another paradox, that is, he asks God to ravish him so that he can be chaste. Here, sexual imagery is used. ‘Ravish’ literally means have sex violently/forcibly or rape. One cannot be chaste or a virgin if one is ravished. Once again the paradox is resolved because if it is God who takes possession of him entirely and violently, he will be chaste or pure without sin.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Death Be Not Proud - a poem by John Donne

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Donne addresses death in this poem. What he does in this poem is to systematically denigrate (put down) death which is feared and considered powerful by everyone. In each of the quatrains he puts forward interesting and unusual arguments to show that death is powerless and not frightening.

In the first quatrain, he asks death, which is considered by many as powerful (mighty) and frightening (dreadful), to not be proud because those who have been overpowered by death do not really die. So death can not kill him too. He makes fun of death by calling it ‘poore death’ meaning that death has been deceived in thinking that it has killed people.

In the second quatrain, he puts forward another argument to show that death is not as powerful or frightening as it seems. First, he says that sleep and rest which are images/imitations of death give immense pleasure. Therefore, from death, which is a deeper sleep and rest, much more pleasure should be got. Hence, the best of people who die get rest from their tired lives, and their souls are freed from the body. So death is indeed doing something good and comforting to people.

In the third quatrain, he puts forward an even more powerful argument. He says that death is a slave to its agents (who or which bring about death) like fate, chance, kings and desperate men and uses vile (evil) means like poison, wars and sickness to kill. Also poppy and charms can make people sleep better than death. For these two reasons, he questions death as to why it is so proud of itself.

Finally, in the couplet, he deals the death blow to death. Donne uses the religious belief that after death we rise again to live with God eternally. So he says that death only puts us to a short sleep and then we wake up to live eternally. Hence, death has no control over us. Therefore, he states emphatically that death should die.

If you felt that this information has been useful for you and if you feel inclined to help orphans kindly donate money to the orphanage that my friend runs. First, take a little time to go through its website: 

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Night of the Scorpion

The narrator, probably the poet himself when he was a small boy, narrates the incident of his mother getting stung by a scorpion one night and the reactions of others to this in the poem. The poem also gives an insight into the behaviour, reactions and beliefs of the villagers.
1 to 7
Ten hours of continuous rain had made the scorpion seek shelter under a sack of rice in the house of the narrator. After stinging his mother, it went out risking the rain again. The tail of the scorpion is referred to as devilish or evil because it contains poison and also because of the belief that the devil acts through the poison of the scorpion.
8 to 18
As the news spread the neighbouring farmers came pouring in and recited the name of God to lessen the effect of the poison. The poet uses the simile of “swarms of flies” to show the behaviour of the villagers, namely, flocking in numbers and buzzing the name of God like flies buzzing. They visit either to witness the mother in pain or to contribute in the prayers. The onomatopoeic words ‘buzzed’ and ‘clicked’ reflect their constant noise. Their lanterns and candles seemed to make giant scorpions shadows of them on the wall. Through this depiction of the shadows the poet wants to convey the narrator’s fear of the situation and create the frightening background. They searched for the scorpion to stop it from moving because they believed that the poison moved in mother’s blood when the scorpion moved. But their search was in vain. They hoped and prayed that the scorpion stayed still in a place.

19 to 31

They expressed the belief that the pain would burn away the sins of her previous birth and decrease the misfortunes of her next birth. They also hoped that the sum of evil which is balanced against the sum of good in this illusionary world become diminished with her pain. They hoped and believed that the poison would purify her mind of her physical desires and ambitions. They sat around her with calm faces as though they seemed to understand why the woman was stung and the consequences of the sting as stated in their beliefs. The tranquil expression on the peasants’ face is in direct contrast to the painful struggling of the narrator’s mother.

32 to 43

People continued coming into the house along with more rain. All the while the mother twisted with pain on the mat. Though the narrator’s father was a sceptic and a rationalist, he tried everything - medicinal powder, herbs and mixtures. Following a belief that was prevalent, he also poured a little paraffin upon the bitten toe and lit a match to it hoping to burn up the poison. His actions are in direct contrast to his views because he wants to try out everything possible to save his wife. The narrator also watched the holy men perform their rites and chant holy verses to lessen the effect of the poison.

44 to 48
The poison lost its effect after twenty hours. The mother’s reaction was only to thank God for sparing her children from the scorpion and choosing her instead to sting. Thus the mother stands as a symbol of selfless love for her children.

If you felt that this information has been useful for you and if you feel inclined to help orphans kindly donate money to the orphanage that my friend runs. First, take a little time to go through its website: 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I really need to acknowledge wikipedia and other websites/books that helped me in writing the explanations for the poems. I'm sorry, I'm unable to recall the sites. I never thought of writing a blog explaining poems taught in schools when I taught these poems. The idea occurred much later and that's why I can't pinpoint the sources from where I got the ideas but used the notes I had made for teaching to write the explanations. Unfortunately, in the short notes, I hadn't written down the source of these notes. Finally, though I have used ideas other sources, by and large the language is mine and a lot of ideas are my own. However, the explanation for the following poems were written entirely by me:
  • Of Mothers Among Other Things
  • My Mother at Sixty-six
  • Curtain
I acknowledge that Ode to Autumn is just an edited version of the explanations I found on the net. Most explanations on the net aren't exhaustive and are often very technical. The students in India aren't asked to study these technical details except for similies, metaphor, personifications etc. The whole idea of writing this blog is to help students especially students who have taken Science, Maths or other courses as their mainstream and not English literature. They do not have much time to spend studying English. I have a request to make to students. Since you are getting this free, please read the link given at the bottom of each explanation and try to help orphaned girls.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum

Far far from gusty waves these children's faces.
Like rootless weeds, the hair torn around their pallor.
The tall girl with her weighed-down head. The paper-
seeming boy, with rat's eyes. The stunted, unlucky heir
Of twisted bones, reciting a father's gnarled disease,
His lesson from his desk. At back of the dim class
One unnoted, sweet and young. His eyes live in a dream,
Of squirrel's game, in the tree room, other than this.

On sour cream walls, donations. Shakespeare's head,
Cloudless at dawn, civilized dome riding all cities.
Belled, flowery, Tyrolese valley. Open-handed map
Awarding the world its world. And yet, for these
Children, these windows, not this world, are world,
Where all their future's painted with a fog,
A narrow street sealed in with a lead sky,
Far far from rivers, capes, and stars of words.

Surely, Shakespeare is wicked, and the map a bad example
With ships and sun and love tempting them to steal--
For lives that slyly turn in their cramped holes
From fog to endless night? On their slag heap, these children
Wear skins peeped through by bones and spectacles of steel
With mended glass, like bottle bits on stones.
All of their time and space are foggy slum.
So blot their maps with slums as big as doom.

Unless, governor, teacher, inspector, visitor,
This map becomes their window and these windows
That shut upon their lives like catacombs,
Break O break open 'till they break the town
And show the children green fields and make their world
Run azure on gold sands, and let their tongues
Run naked into books, the white and green leaves open
History is theirs whose language is the sun.

A note: I stopped teaching CBSE 5 years ago and I'm out of touch. So I haven't really worked on the explanations and edited them. You might find some of the explanations not up to the mark especially this poem. You will surely find better explanations on the net. One such site recommended by one of the readers which is really good and tailor made for CBSE is 

Stephen Spender highlights the plight of slum children by using vivid images and apt words to picture a classroom in a slum. Through this he touches, in a subtle manner, the themes of social injustice and inequalities.

Lines 1, 2
The opening line of the poem uses an image to contrast the slum children’s faces with those of others. The image used is ‘gusty waves’ indicating brightness, verve and animation. But these are missing from faces of these children. The next image of ‘rootless weeds’ produces double effect. ‘Weeds’ indicate being unwanted and ‘rootless’ indicates not belonging. The slum children are like ‘rootless weeds’ unwanted by society and not belonging to society. Their uncombed hair fall on their pale faces.

Lines 3 to 8
Next, a few of the slum children are described. There is a tall girl whose head is weighed-down with sadness, disinterestedness or shame or a mixture of all the three. She is probably over-aged for the class. Another boy is thin, emaciated like paper and his eyes pop out from his thin body looking furtive like rat’s eyes. He seems to have inherited stunted and twisted growth of bones from his father. Spender has used the word ‘reciting’ to show that instead of studying/reciting, a normal activity in school, the boy had only his inherited crippling disease to show/recite in the class. This could suggest that the boy’s condition seem to have arisen because of his poverty especially his inability to avail heath services at the right time. Right at the back of the badly lit room is an unnoticed young boy. He is probably too young for poverty to have stifled his childish imagination. He daydreams of the squirrel’s game and about the tree house, absent mentally from the classroom.

Lines 9 to 12
Spender then describes the classroom. The word ‘sour’ used to describe the cream walls of the classroom indicates its derelict condition. Contradicting this state and the slum children are Shakespeare’s head indicating erudition, the picture of a clear sky at dawn and a beautiful Tyrolese valley indicating beauty of nature and hope, dome of an ancient city building standing for civilization and progress and a world map awarding the children the world. The lines “Open-handed map / Awarding the world its world” could refer to the map of the world hanging on the wall of the classroom giving/showing (awarding) everyone (the world) the world out there to explore and know (its world).

Lines 13 to 16
But the world of the slum children is the limited world that can be seen though the windows of the classroom and not what the map promises. All these seem ironic when contrasted with the misery and hopeless condition of the slum children. Their future is foggy, bleak and dull. Their life/world is confined within the narrow streets of the slum enclosed by the dull sky far away from rivers, seas that indicate adventure and learning and from the stars that stand for words that can empower their future. 'Lead sky' means a dullsky or a dimly lit sky. This symbolises the bleak, dull life and future of the slum children.
Lines 17 to 24
The poet feels that the head of Shakespeare and the map are cruel temptations for these children living in cramped houses (holes), whose lives revolve around (slyly turns) dullness (fog) and hopelessness (endless night) as they imagine and long for (steal) adventure(ships), for a better future (sun) and for love. Their emaciated wasted bodies compared to slag (waste) heaped together seemed to be wearing the clothes of skin covering their peeping bones and wearing spectacles of steel with cracked glasses looking like bottle bits mended. The slum is their map as big as the doom of the city buildings and their life (time and space) foggy and dim. The poet repeatedly uses the word fog to talk about the unclear, vague and dull life of the slum children.

Lines 25 to 32
The only hope of a life beyond the slums that enclose their lives like catacombs is some initiative by the governor, inspector of schools or a visitor. The poem ends with the poet fervently hoping that slum children will have access to better education and a better way of life. He uses the words ‘Break o break open’ to say that they have to break out from the miserable hopeless life of the slum world so that they can wander beyond the slums and their town on to the green fields and golden sands (indicating the unlimited world). These can become their teacher and like dogs lapping up food hungrily, they can learn directly (run naked) from the open pages (leaves) of nature and the world which is sustained (whose language) by the sun standing for energy and life.

If you felt that this information has been useful for you and if you feel inclined to help orphans kindly donate money to the orphanage that my friend runs. First, take a little time to go through its website: 

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Mother at Sixty-six by Kamala Das

My Mother at Sixty-six
Kamala Das
Driving from my parent's
home to Cochin last Friday
morning, I saw my mother,
beside me,
doze, open mouthed, her face
ashen like that
of a corpse and realised with
that she thought away, and
looked but soon
put that thought away, and
looked out at young
trees sprinting, the merry children spilling
out of their homes, but after the airport's
security check, standing a few yards
away, I looked again at her, wan,
as a late winter's moon and felt that
familiar ache, my childhood's fear,
but all I said was, see you soon,
all I did was smile and smile and

A note: I stopped teaching CBSE 5 years ago and I'm out of touch. So I haven't really worked on the explanations and edited them. You might find some of the explanations not up to the mark especially this poem. You will surely find better explanations on the net. One such site recommended by one of the readers which is really good and tailor made for CBSE is 

In this poem, Kamala Das explores the theme of ageing and death and isolation through a narration involving her mother.

While driving from her parent’s home to Cochin, she notices her mother sitting beside her dozing, her face pale like a dead body and her thoughts far away. This reminds her painfully that her mother is old and could pass away leaving her alone.

Putting that thought aside she looked out at the young trees speeding by and children running out of their homes happily to play. These remind her probably of youth and life, her own younger days and her mother when she was young.

But after the security check at the airport, looking back at her mother standing a few yards away, she finds her looking pale like the winter moon. She feels that familiar pain and childhood fear of the thought of losing her mother and of being lonely just as she had been when she was young because she was different from other children. She could only keep smiling and tell her ‘see you soon’ knowing full well that she might not see her.

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers by Adrienne Rich

Aunt Jennifer's Tigers

Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
Aunt Jennifer's finger fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.
When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.
Adrienne Rich

A note: I stopped teaching CBSE 5 years ago and I'm out of touch. So I haven't really worked on the explanations and edited them. You might find some of the explanations not up to the mark especially this poem. You will surely find better explanations on the net. One such site recommended by one of the readers which is really good and tailor made for CBSE is 

Adrienne Rich's "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers", depicts a woman trapped within the cultural constraints and responsibilities of married life.

In the first stanza, Aunt Jennifer’s situation and character is contrasted with her artistic creation that portrays her aspiration. The tapestry on which she has knitted tigers are very symbolic of what she wants to be in life - fearless, assertive, noble and powerful like the tiger as expressed in the words "They pace in sleek chivalric certainty". The word 'certainty' could portray the self-assuredness of the tiger or the confident bearing of the tiger as it is fearless of life.The tigers depicted as prancing across the screen bring to mind a being that is confident, self-assured and happy; all things that Aunt Jennifer is not. The use of colours implies that Aunt Jennifer's tigers and their land are more vital and enjoy a sense of freedom far greater than her. Yellow (bright topaz) connotes the sun and fierce energy, while green reminds one of spring and rebirth.

In the second stanza, Aunt Jennifer's present state is depicted. Her fingers are "fluttering through her wool" showing both physical and mental weakness. She finds it difficult to pull the needle. "The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band / Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand" reminds us that her marriage responsibilities weigh her down which makes her unable to realize her full potential as a woman in a male-dominated society. She escapes from her difficult situation through art i.e. through knitting.

The final stanza contains imagery that reflects back on the first two stanzas. The reference of the hands symbolizes Aunt Jennifer as a whole. Though her death would free her from her present miserable state, her hands will remain terrified with the wedding ring which binds her to her ordeals that took complete control of her. The only sign of her freedom from her present life is the art work which she escapes into by depicting the prancing, proud and unafraid tigers which is what she really wants to be and which she attains through her imagination.


If you felt that this information has been useful for you and if you feel inclined to help orphans kindly donate money to the orphanage that my friend runs. First, take a little time to go through its website: 

A Roadside Stand by Robert Frost

A note: I stopped teaching CBSE 5 years ago and I'm out of touch. So I haven't really worked on the explanations and edited them. You might find some of the explanations not up to the mark especially this poem. You will surely find better explanations on the net. One such site recommended by one of the readers which is really good and tailor made for CBSE is 

In this poem, the poet contrasts the lives of poor and deprived countryside people who struggle to live, with the thoughtless city people who don’t even bother to notice the roadside stand that these people have put up to sell their goodies.

Lines 1 to 6
The poem starts with the description of the roadside stand and the intention behind it. A small time farmer builds a vegetable stand at the edge of the highway outside his house in the hope that passing cars would buy the produce and earn a bit of the money that supports cities from falling into ruin. He only wants to earn a living, he is not begging for money.

Lines 7 to 13
However, no cars ever stop and the ones that even glance in the direction of the stand without any feeling of compassion or relatedness (out of sorts) only comment about how the construction spoils the view of the surroundings or how badly painted the wrongly pointed North and South signs are or to notice without interest the wild berries and squash for sale in the stand or the beautiful mountain scene.

Lines 13 to 22
The farmer tells the rich travelers to keep their money if they meant to be mean and that the hurt to the view is not as important as the sorrow he feels on being ignored. He only wishes for some (city) money so that he may experience the plush life (make our beings expand) portrayed by the movies and other media, which the political parties are said to be refusing him.

Lines 23 to 31
Frost goes on to say that even though these people have benefactors (good-doers), who plan to relocate them in villages where they can have easy access to the cinema and the store, they are actually selfish (‘greedy good-doers’ and ‘beasts of prey’) and only help these "pitiful kin" to indirectly advantage themselves. The altruists wish to make these villagers completely dependent on them for all their benefits and comforts, thus robbing them of the ability to think for themselves and be independent. 'The ancient way' could mean the old way when people worked during the day and slept at night. This is being reversed by the new 'greedy good doers' who teach these people to not use their brain. They are unable to sleep at night because they haven't worked during day time or because they are troubled by their new lifestyle.

Lines 32 to 43
Frost then talks about his personal feelings, saying that he can hardly bear the thought of the farmer's dashed hopes. The open windows of the farmer's house seem to wait all day just to hear the sound of a car stopping to make a purchase. However they are always disappointed, as vehicles only stop to enquire the price, to ask their way ahead, to reverse or ask for a gallon of gas. 'The polished traffic' refers to the rich class who drive their cars to their destinations (with a mind ahead) probably to another city unmindful of the countryside roadside stand and if at all they did get distracted by the countryside (if ever aside a moment) they seemed out of place in it (out of sorts).

Another explanation for theses words given by classmate in yahoo answers seems to make better sense. (

Clearly "out of sorts" does not mean "out of place." It means "annoyed." The drivers see the roadside stand with its clumsy, hand-painted signs as a blemish on the rural landscape they're driving through.

By calling the traffic "polished," Frost is stressing a contrast that is central to the poem -- the shiny vehicles driven by well-to-do city folk vs. the unsophisticated, semi-literate, "artless" stand set up by an impoverished farmer.

Lines 44 to 51
According to the poet, the progress required has not been found by these country folk (“the requisite lift of spirit"). Their lifestyles provide ample evidence to support this fact. He sometimes feels that it might be best to simply put these people out of their pain and hardships of existence. However, once rational thinking returns to his mind, he wonders how HE would feel if someone offered to do him this supposed service.
Wolfer, one of the readers ahs this pertinent comment:
Because the greedy good doers are robbing them of their ability to think during the day and they sleep throughout the day, so they are unable to sleep at night(as is the ancient custom) because they aren't sleepy anymore.

If you felt that this information has been useful for you and if you feel inclined to help orphans kindly donate money to the orphanage that my friend runs. First, take a little time to go through its website: 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Explanation for the poem "Curtain"

A note: I stopped teaching CBSE 5 years ago and I'm out of touch. So I haven't really worked on the explanations and edited them. You might find some of the explanations not up to the mark especially this poem. You will surely find better explanations on the net. One such site recommended by one of the readers which is really good and tailor made for CBSE is 

The poem deals with the theme of separation, especially between lovers. The background for the poem is the tumultuous times that England and Europe were going through leading to the Second World War.

The first stanza begins with the word ‘Goodbye’ used for parting. This word ends the first stanza and begins the second. The lovers wish each other goodbye and their intertwined (laced) fingers loosen symbolising a gradual break in their relationship. The sense of touch is evoked in this stanza. The warmth of their relationship symbolised by their hand clasp, slowly breaks down and finally becomes cold and distant like the stiff, cold (frosted) flowers of a garden in November. Their separation is felt sharply and piercingly like bullets. For them even darkness, that unites without distinguishing, feels separate and strange.

The second stanza states that their relationship has broken down fully. This is conveyed by the words “There is no touch now” and by comparing their relationship to a wave that has now broken down in the lonely sea of the world. Though there is a possibility of words still to be spoken or for communication, the separation is too great a gulf for this to happen. It is so great that it swiftly out measures time (time makes us gradually forget) and engulfs one’s identity too.
The third stanza pictures the state of separation. It is like the dreamer startled from her sleep, but the vivid image of the dream is lost in the process of waking. It is a state of vagueness about a vivid moment of life. All the senses like taste and sight feel numb. Even feelings have turned cold as denoted by the words ‘clinic heart’ (dead heart). So there is no question of the heart breaking.

The final stanza asks questions about the separation like whether it easy and if there is nothing besides this ‘quiet disaster’; quiet because it is known only to them. The final question is whether there is cause for sorrow because in the final kiss of parting, which is compared to a ‘white murder’ of love relationship, they have become two different people, (two ghosts, two Hamlets, two soliloquies) living in a distant physical and mental world of the future.

If you felt that this information has been useful for you and if you feel inclined to help orphans kindly donate money to the orphanage that my friend runs. First, take a little time to go through its website: 

Explanation "To Autumn" by John Keats

A note: I stopped teaching CBSE 5 years ago and I'm out of touch. So I haven't really worked on the explanations and edited them. You might find some of the explanations not up to the mark especially this poem. You will surely find better explanations on the net. One such site recommended by one of the readers which is really good and tailor made for CBSE is 

Keats's speaker opens his first stanza by addressing Autumn, describing its abundance and its intimacy with the sun, with whom Autumn ripens fruits and causes the late flowers to bloom. In the second stanza, the speaker describes the figure of Autumn as a female goddess, often seen sitting on the granary floor, her hair "soft-lifted" by the wind, and often seen sleeping in the fields or watching a cider-press squeezing the juice from apples. In the third stanza, the speaker tells Autumn not to wonder where the songs of spring have gone, but instead to listen to her own music. At twilight, the "small gnats" hum above the shallows of the river, lifted and dropped by the wind, and "full-grown lambs" bleat from the hills, crickets sing, robins whistle from the garden, and swallows, gathering for their coming migration, sing from the skies.

It is written in a three-stanza structure with a variable rhyme scheme. Each stanza is eleven lines long. In each stanza, the first part is made up of the first four lines following an ABAB rhyme scheme. The second part made up of the last seven lines is arranged CDEDCCE in the first stanza and CDECDDE in the second and third stanzas.

"To Autumn" is one of the simplest of Keats's odes. The extraordinary achievement of this poem lies in its ability to suggest, explore, and develop a rich abundance of themes without ever ruffling its calm, gentle, and lovely description of autumn. It shows Keats's speaker paying homage to a particular goddess--in this case, the deified season of Autumn. The selection of this season implicitly takes up the themes of temporality, mortality, and change taken up by the earlier odes of Keats. Autumn in Keats's ode is a time of warmth and plenty, but it is perched on the brink of winter's desolation, as the bees enjoy "later flowers," the harvest is gathered from the fields, the lambs of spring are now "full grown," and, in the final line of the poem, the swallows gather for their winter migration. The understated sense of inevitable loss in that final line makes it one of the most moving moments in all of poetry; it can be read as a simple, uncomplaining summation of the entire human condition.

Despite the coming chill of winter, the late warmth of autumn provides Keats's speaker with ample beauty to celebrate: the cottage and its surroundings in the first stanza, the agrarian haunts of the goddess in the second, and the locales of natural creatures in the third. Keats's speaker is able to experience these beauties in a sincere and meaningful way because of the lessons he has learned in the previous odes: He is no longer indolent, no longer committed to the isolated imagination (as in "Psyche"), no longer attempting to escape the pain of the world through ecstatic rapture (as in "Nightingale"), no longer frustrated by the attempt to eternalize mortal beauty or subject eternal beauty to time (as in "Urn"), and no longer able to frame the connection of pleasure and the sorrow of loss only as an imaginary heroic quest (as in "Melancholy").

In "To Autumn," the image of Autumn winnowing and harvesting is an explicit metaphor for artistic creation. The act of creation is pictured as a kind of self-harvesting in another poem; the pen harvests the fields of the brain, and books are filled with the resulting "grain." In "To Autumn," the metaphor is developed further; the sense of coming loss that permeates the poem confronts the sorrow underlying the season's creativity. When Autumn's harvest is over, the fields will be bare, the swaths with their "twined flowers" cut down, the cider-press dry, the skies empty. But the connection of this harvesting to the seasonal cycle softens the edge of the tragedy. In time, spring will come again, the fields will grow again, and the birdsong will return. Abundance and loss, joy and sorrow, song and silence are as intimately connected as the twined flowers in the fields. What makes "To Autumn" beautiful is that it brings an engagement with that connection out of the realm of mythology and fantasy and into the everyday world. The poet has learned that an acceptance of mortality is not destructive to an appreciation of beauty and has gleaned wisdom by accepting the passage of time.

An interpretaion from John:
In the second stanza the poet personifies autumn as a women performing various activities in a way to portray autumn. Also this marks a transition in the poem where in the first stanza it portrays an image of rushing things, the second the activities start to slow down(use of words like "hours by hours", "sound asleep") And this overall I feel is symbolic of the transition in the seasons as well i.e. from summer to autumn.

If you felt that this information has been useful for you and if you feel inclined to help orphans kindly donate money to the orphanage that my friend runs. First, take a little time to go through its website: 

Explanation for "Ars Poetica" by Archibald Macleish

Ars Poetica

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit
As old medallions to the thumb
Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown -
A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs
Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,
Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind -
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs
A poem should be equal to:
Not true
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf
For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea -
A poem should not mean
But be

A note: I stopped teaching CBSE 5 years ago and I'm out of touch. So I haven't really worked on the explanations and edited them. You might find some of the explanations not up to the mark especially this poem. You will surely find better explanations on the net. One such site recommended by one of the readers which is really good and tailor made for CBSE is 

Archibald MacLeish’s imagist idea of art for art's sake is expressed in the poem 'Ars Poetica'. The poem is about the art of poetry or what a poem should be. It is interesting to note that as MacLeish states what a poem should be, he illustrates it as well, in the poem by successfully using paradoxes/contradictions and images to convey the idea that good poetry uses powerful images. The poem is divided into three sections of eight lines each with four rhyming couplets.

In the first section, he insists that a poem should be 'silent', dumb' or wordless. This seems contradictory or paradoxical as a poem uses words and is not silent. However, what he intends is the imagist concept of art, namely being brief and being direct. This is achieved through using the right words and right images which appeal to the reader’s senses of touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste. To convey this he has used the image of fruit that can be tasted or directly felt without the need for words/explanations. Also 'globed fruit' indicates the universality of the senses indicating that sensual images transcend individual cultures and time. Medallions are dumb to the feel of the thumb yet the image of medallions that commemorate past events recalls to memory the emotive past. Similarly, the silent image of 'sleeve worn stone of casement ledges’ evokes the sense of touch and along with it nostalgic memories of someone waiting and looking out by the window. Finally, the image of the soundless flight of birds touches the sense of sight. There is action yet it is a silent action. So too should a poem be: it should speak silently, which means, a poem doesn’t brashly convey a message or meaning but should evoke emotion/experience and impel imagination through images/words.

In the second section, he uses the image of the moon to state that a poem should be 'motionless in time' like the moon. The moon moves but its movement can not be easily perceived. So should poetry be. This could mean that good poems transcend time since they speak of universal experience. Yet each poem is rooted in the concrete i.e. in real, particular experience. What make them universal are the images used and the emotions evoked. Again, the poet uses imagery to illustrate the point. A poem leave memories/emotions/feelings in our mind just like the rising moon. Its imperceptible, incremental movement releases with its light, twig by twig the trees entangled by darkness and with continuous rising leaves the winter behind.

The third section seems to refute the idea that art is a search for truth as echoed in Keats' line 'beauty is truth, truth beauty'. For the poet, 'a poem should be equal to: not true'. Poetry is not concerned with the generalities of truth, beauty, goodness or historical facts. On the contrary what it should do is to capture human experience like an experience of grief, or of love, or of loneliness through images. As in the other two sections he uses images to illustrate the point. He uses the images of an 'empty doorway' or 'a maple leaf' to suggest the universal experience and history of grief and the images of ‘the leaning grasses and two lights above the sea' to evoke the experience of love. The last couplet 'a poem should not mean but be' seems to re-echo the imagist principle of art for art’s sake and poetry as capturing life using precise images that achieve clarity of expression. Poetry should not try to take on great unanswerable philosophical questions or convey some meaning/message. Instead good poetry should use concrete images to capture and evoke a moment of personal experience to take in the richness of being.


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Explanation for "Survivors" by Sassoon


No doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they’re ‘longing to go out again,’—
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,—
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride...
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.

Craiglockart. October, 1917.
Siegfried Sassoon

A note: I stopped teaching CBSE 5 years ago and I'm out of touch. So I haven't really worked on the explanations and edited them. You might find some of the explanations not up to the mark especially this poem. You will surely find better explanations on the net. One such site recommended by one of the readers which is really good and tailor made for CBSE is 

The poet, Sassoon, explores the effect of war on soldiers and indirectly criticizes the non-combatant’s complacent attitude towards war. He does this effectively using an underlying ironic tone in the poem by making statements (necessarily a non-combatant’s statements i.e. the common people or a politician’s) that seem to reassure the reader that the wounded and shell-shocked soldiers will be fine and that war is glorious, but immediately follows such statements with a graphic presentation of the physical and mental scars that war creates. This jolts the reader’s reassurance and makes the poem doubly effective. The poem is also powerful because it is auto-biographical. It was written while the poet was recovering from shell-shock at Craiglockhart Hospital.

The poem begins by giving the reader the misleading hope that the shell-shocked soldiers would surely recover (the view of the non-combatant) and breaks this hope when he describes how the shock and strain of war have caused these soldiers to stammer and to talk incoherently. It would take them a long time to recover from this and not ‘soon’. Again the statement that they are ‘longing to go out again’ and fight (statement of politicians, probably) makes us imagine that the soldiers are raring to go out to the war front again and fight. This is again negated by describing the soldier’s faces as ‘old’ and ‘scared’ showing how war makes these courageous men old before their time and afraid. Also the words ‘they are learning to walk’ could literally mean recovering physically from battle wounds or metaphorically mean getting back to normal life recovering from the psychological scars that they have received.

Once again the reassuring statement that they will soon forget their haunted nights is contradicted by stating what haunts them in their sleep. Their sleep is filled with nightmares of the ghosts of friends who died in battle and the scenes of killing and blood in the battlefield. When they are haunted by these how can they ever ‘soon’ forget anything? Finally, the poet is ironic when he says that the soldiers will be proud of glorious war which not only shattered their pride in fighting for their country but shattered their individual selves.

The last two lines convey the total effect of war, that is, it turns men who went to war, glad and serious about fighting for their country, returning reduced to the level of helpless children. They are completely broken psychologically and almost insane. They are also filled with hatred for the supporters of war namely, the politicians and the non-combatants. Thus, using irony, the poem poignantly exposes the sham of war and its effects on the combatants.

Anastasia has a further explanation:
I would like to add the fact that the men have been reduced to children because of the fact that war has destroyed them completely; emotionally, mentally, psychologically and physically as well. They aren't able to fit in society anymore and need to be taught various attributes, activities and things again. They have been reduced to children because like children, they need to be taught how to walk and talk again. Also, the line of, 'their dreams that drip with murder', it would basically mean that they dream of their friends and comrades being murdered in front of them and also of the murders they committed of other soldiers on the battle field.

If you felt that this information has been useful for you and if you feel inclined to help orphans kindly donate money to the orphanage that my friend runs. First, take a little time to go through its website: