The Snow Village – Glyn Maxwell – Analysis

The Snow Village

In the age of pen and paper,
when the page was a snow village,
when days the light was leafing through
descended without message,

the nib that struck from heaven
was the sight of a cottage window
lit by the only certain
sign of a life, a candle,

glimpsed by a stranger walking
at a loss through the snow village.
All that can flow can follow
that sighting, though no image,

no face appear – not even
the hand that draws across it –
though the curtains close the vision,
though the stranger end his visit,

though the snow erase all traces
of his passing through the village,
though his step become unknowable
and the whiteness knowledge.

Glyn Maxwell (1962 – ) used by permission of the author
from The Nerve (Picador, 2002)

S1 … we are talking of times when things could be written down … when communication could take this form – the age of pen and paper … the page likened to a snow village – waiting for some ‘prints’ … just as plants wait for a break through based on light … the poet waits for a breakthrough all he or her has is the white sheet of paper

S2 … it appears communication was initiated from ‘heaven’ – the nib struck from heaven … the mind connected with some spiritual force … to a window in a cottage in the village where life is the simple flame of a candle … indicating somewhat tenuous beginnings … but there is a certainty of this life, this flame, this fire which shows some importance … the window indicating an ‘opening’ … and the poet is able to make a start – there is inspiration and footprints in the snow can be seen as the stranger (poet) starts to make his mark on his journey

S3 / S4 … the stranger (poet) is at a loss lacking understanding on where to go … and only glimpses what has happened in the window, not seeing how the message was born but everything flows from that brief encounter, that sighting of the candle. The inspiration is only momentary and the curtains close on the window and the sighting lost but of importance there is impact on the stranger … akin to making a start by a poet in the creation process … enough for something to follow – All that can flow can follow that sighting – not being privy to the initiator or the process, not seeing the motivator or understanding the fire of inspiration that brought the message-flame to life – but the stranger takes something away with him or her – from this insight there is some direction on where to go and he or she takes up the journey and leaves footprints (writing) in the snow.

S5 … after passing through the village the snow (white pages) cover up again … the poet leaves snow or white pages behind as time erases … but although the snow covers up the snow has that latent knowledge within from the printing that has taken place by the stranger. The snow is more than just snow. Time has a continuous history.

Perhaps we all live in a local snow village of some sort and as we pass through pick up the lost prints of those that have gone before who left some message and created knowledge, in particular thinking of the poet who leaves a poem for posterity.

Glyn Maxwell (born in 1962) is a well regarded British poet, playwright, librettist, and lecturer.

A reading of this poem by Glyn Maxwell can be heard from this link.

Walking Away – Cecil Day-Lewis – Comments

Walking Away

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

Cecil Day-Lewis

Apparently this poem is dedicated to Day-Lewis’s first son, Sean, and recalls a day when he was watching Sean go in to school, reflecting back after many years.

This poem is all about moving on … leaving behind that which has been … and growing up you can never return to the way it was … whether it be childhood or not … but you have this something to take with you and carry latent as a force in your future … whether or not that childhood has been happy or not … and for those left behind as you walk away it is always a sad affair but part of life. Love must be proved in the letting go.

It is particularily hard for parents to release their off-spring when they are moving away from home. And in the same vein it is hard for those that have had strong personal bonds in a relationship when it is time to say good-bye whether or not of a permanent nature.

Rhyming in the first, third and fifth lines of each stanza. And an interesting thought in the last stanza. God gives and walks away expecting some development. How selfhood begins with a walking away – humanity standing on its own two feet so to speak but I do think it kind of needs a little direction at times even if from a far away place. Hopefully there is still some form of contact!

Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) CBE (27 April 1904 – 22 May 1972) was an Anglo-Irish poet and the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972. He also wrote mystery stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake. He is the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis and documentary filmmaker and television chef Tamasin Day-Lewis.

More on Cecil Day-Lewis via Wikipedia


Adlestrop – Edward Thomas – Comments


Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917)

It was as though the train stopped on purpose so that all the passengers good savour an early summer day when the world itself seemed to stop and all was peace. The joy of nature showing contentment voiced in the beautiful birdsong of the English countryside. It is moments like these, unexpected moments of joy, that become so meaningful when we reflect back. I think we all have such images that retain lifelong pleasure on recall.

It is a very simple four stanza poem with rhyming in the second and fourth lines. The short factual statements are all that is needed in defining the essence of the moment as experienced by the traveller as he looks out the window. The text ‘And for that minute’ is pivotal in holding the image in the eye of the reader.

And of course many will relate to the experience of a train stopping before reaching the destination but whether thay will be relaxed about it is another matter.

Edward Thomas will be remembered by this poem more than any other just as Adlestrop will always be associated with this poem. An example of how a poem can define a specific place due to experience. Adlestrop was axed in the Beeching cull of railway stations in the Sixties as were many other sleepy country stations. However the railway sign displaying the name is still very much in evidence.

And from Wikipedia …  it was due to Edward Thomas that Robert Frost came to write his famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’

The American poet Robert Frost, who was living in England at the time, in particular encouraged Thomas (then more famous as a critic) to write poetry, and their friendship was so close that the two planned to reside side by side in the United States. Frost’s most famous poem, “The Road Not Taken”, was inspired by walks with Thomas and Thomas’s indecisiveness about which route to take.

Tragically Edward Thomas was killed soon after he arrived in France during the first World War.

And more details of Edward Thomas via Wikipedia 

Imperial Adam – A. D. Hope : Comments

Imperial Adam

Imperial Adam, naked in the dew,
Felt his brown flanks and found the rib was gone.
Puzzled he turned and saw where, two and two,
The mighty spoor of Yahweh marked the lawn.

Then he remembered through mysterious sleep
The surgeon fingers probing at the bone,
The voice so far away, so rich and deep:
“It is not good for him to live alone.”

Turning once more he found Man’s counterpart
In tender parody breathing at his side.
He knew her at first sight, he knew by heart
Her allegory of sense unsatisfied.

The pawpaw drooped its golden breasts above
Less generous than the honey of her flesh;
The innocent sunlight showed the place of love;
The dew on its dark hairs winked crisp and fresh.

This plump gourd severed from his virile root,
She promised on the turf of Paradise
Delicious pulp of the forbidden fruit;
Sly as the snake she loosed her sinuous thighs,

And waking, smiled up at him from the grass;
Her breasts rose softly and he heard her sigh —
From all the beasts whose pleasant task it was
In Eden to increase and multiply

Adam had learned the jolly deed of kind:
He took her in his arms and there and then,
Like the clean beasts, embracing from behind,
Began in joy to found the breed of men.

Then from the spurt of seed within her broke
Her terrible and triumphant female cry,
Split upward by the sexual lightning stroke.
It was the beasts now who stood watching by:

The gravid elephant, the calving hind,
The breeding bitch, the she-ape big with young
Were the first gentle midwives of mankind;
The teeming lioness rasped her with her tongue;

The proud vicuna nuzzled her as she slept
Lax on the grass; and Adam watching too
Saw how her dumb breasts at their ripening wept,
The great pod of her belly swelled and grew,

And saw its water break, and saw, in fear,
It quaking muscles in the act of birth,
Between her legs a pigmy face appear,
And the first murderer lay upon the earth.

A. D. Hope

This is a well-crafted eleven stanza poem with rhyming scheme (abab) and more importantly showing plenty of imagination, and what a wonderful build-up to an immense last line.

S1 and S2 – well here is Adam … hopefully he did not experience any pain during the night … remembering in his sleep hearing a voice … perhaps he had a dream of something beautiful … ‘the spoor of Yahweh’ – well he himself is a similar product. It is interesting that the word spoor is chosen as this associates the creator as animal. We will see later that the animal world is very evident in this poem.

S3 – what a shock … but he knew her at first-sight … woman part of man … woman and man inextricably connected … he noticed her in need (allegory of sense – poetic expression of this urge – allegory = a picture that can reveal a hidden meaning) … (he didn’t say ‘I have a bone to pick with you’!)

S4 – and what was this that winked at him … he was aware of the difference … Eve not tempting with an apple but with other fruit … a nice touch that a pawpaw is associated with Eve

S5 – again another fruit reference (nice to have different fruit from the Eve-apple association) – a gourd (hard celled fruit for decoration) … such an appropriate choice … and the typical female seductive stereotype written by a male in snake terms

S6 – all the animals that have been enjoying sex are there watching … nice contrast … and interesting when later we see these animals are of a friendly nature

S7 – so Adam in line with the animals … copying … has the first sexual act with a woman … it might have been a surprise to find the changes to his body in this encounter

S8 – Eve has achieved her purpose … her need satisfied … a triumphant cry while the animals watch and in S9 and S10 become loving midwifes as Eve’s body changes with pregnancy … great imagination … all the animals seem friendly and Adam is regarded as one of them

S11 – Adam watches the first human birth in fear … and then that confronting last line that stuns the thought of the reader.

And so began the fragmentation of the empire of Imperial Adam.

Here is a link to the Australian poet A. D. Hope on Wikipedia …

Shelley’s Preface to Prometheus Unbound

Shelley’s preface to Prometheus Unbound is well worth reading in understanding the something of the nature Shelley …

It is interesting to see what he has to say about his hero Prometheus compared to Satan detailed in ‘Paradise Lost’ (Milton) …

‘… the only imaginary being resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan; and Prometheus is, in my judgement, a more poetical character than Satan because, in addition to courage and majesty and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force, he is susceptible of being described as exempt from the traits of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement, which is the hero of ‘Paradise Lost’… … Prometheus is, as it were, the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and truest motives to the best and noblest ends.’

The only thing I can say to that … Satan can’t be perfect can he …but seriously, again we see Shelley (= Prometheus) willing to stand-up … even against omnipotence

On the imagery – ‘ … drawn from the operations of the human mind, or from those external actions by which they are expressed’… Shelley says this is unusual in the poetry of his day … with the exception of Shakespeare and Dante (especially Dante) … he also applauds the Greek poets who had no antecedent

He pays homage to the way literature fuelled a better interpretation of the Christian Religion …

We owe the great writers of the golden age of our literature to that fervid awakening of the public mind which shook to dust the oldest and most oppressive form of the Christian Religion’

I agree that in one sense ‘poetry is a mimetic art’ … the influence of others is unavoidable … Shelley states the following generalisation …

‘A Poet, is the combined product of such internal powers as modify the nature of others, and of such external influences as excite and sustain these powers; he is not one but both. Every man’s mind is in this respect modified by all the objects in nature and art, by every word and every suggestion which he ever admitted to act upon his consciousness; it is the mirror upon which all forms are reflected, and in which they compose one form. … Poets, not otherwise than philosophers, painters, sculptors, musicians, are in one sense the creators and in another the creations of their age.’

… finding similarity between Homer with Hesiod, Aeschylus and Euripides, Virgil and Horace, Dante and Petrarch, Shakespeare and Fletcher and Dryden and Pope … and in the need to read the work of others …

‘He might as wisely and as easily determine that his mind should no longer be the mirror of all that is lovely in the visible universe, as exclude from his contemplation the beautiful which exists in the writings of a great contemporary’

Footnote …

from Wikipedia on Prometheus Unbound … Prometheus Unbound is a four-act lyrical drama by Percy Bysshe Shelley, first published in 1820.  It is concerned with the torments of the Greek mythological figure Prometheus, who defies the gods and gives fire to humanity, for which he is subjected to eternal punishment and suffering at the hands of Zeus.

Man on the Moon – Stephen Edgar – Analysis

Man on the Moon

Hardly a feature in the evening sky
As yet—near the horizon the cold glow
Of rose and mauve which, as you look on high,
Deepens to Giotto’s dream of indigo.

Hardly a star as yet. And then that frail
Sliver of moon like a thin peel of soap
Gouged by a nail, or the paring of a nail:
Slender enough repository of hope.

There was no lack of hope when thirty-five
Full years ago they sent up the Apollo—
Two thirds of all the years I’ve been alive.
They let us out of school, so we could follow

The broadcast of that memorable scene,
Crouching in Mr. Langshaw’s tiny flat,
The whole class huddled round the TV screen.
There’s not much chance, then, of forgetting that.

And for the first time ever I think now,
As though it were a memory, that you
Were in the world then and alive, and how
Down time’s long labyrinthine avenue

Eventually you’d bring yourself to me
With no excessive haste and none too soon—
As memorable in my history
As that small step for man on to the moon.

How pitiful and inveterate the way
We view the paths by which our lives descended
From the far past down to the present day
And fancy those contingencies intended,

A secret destiny planned in advance
Where what is done is as it must be done
For us alone. When really it’s all chance
And the special one might have been anyone.

The paths that I imagined to have come
Together and for good have simply crossed
And carried on. And that delirium
We found is cold and sober now and lost.

The crescent moon, to quote myself, lies back,
A radio telescope propped to receive
The signals of the circling zodiac.
I send my thoughts up, wishing to believe

That they might strike the moon and be transferred
To where you are and find or join your own.
Don’t smile. I know the notion is absurd,
And everything I think, I think alone.

Stephen Edgar (1951 –

Clive James has given an excellent analysis of this poem in his book ‘Poetry Notes’ … the text of this discussion is also on the internet and this is the website link …

Adding some comments to this discussion …

There is no such a thing as a perfect poem … and I agree that this poem has a decided flaw in the second last stanza when SE makes reference to the text in another of his poems – re: to quote myself … an oblique reference that jolts the flow.

However, this is certainly a well crafted poem and one poem that will surely be remembered against his name.

Apart from the ‘poetic devices’ discussed by Clive James for me one of the reasons it is a great poem is the integrated comparison between two ‘major events’ that occurred in 1969. The first event being that famous ‘walk on the moon’ and the second being much more down to earth that of the start of a very personal relationship that affected his life. The poem looks back at these events after thirty five years. The second stanza subtly introduces the link by the ‘moon/nail’ comparison. It is not clear what ‘hope’ means until reading further when ‘hope’ is seen as more relevant in regard to a successful personal relationship.

The journey to the moon took a lot of planning. It was a long path to that first walk and everyone was indeed hopeful for a successful outcome. SE looks at the equivalent path that led to the meeting of his love indicating ‘eventually you’d bring yourself to me’. He poses questions such as – what planning and what forces brought the two of them together? – and was it predestined? And there is that familiar romantic notion that love is meant to be when all is well between lovers.

A secret destiny planned in advance
Where what is done is as it must be done
For us alone

… but then he states that ‘the special one might have been anyone’ dispelling such romantic thoughts. However that ‘anyone’ was of course very special and there was a state of ‘delirium’ comparable to the ‘delirium ‘of the moon-walk, if only to him. A personal journey is far more important.

Then that sad nostalgic reflection … ‘that delirium/ we found is cold and sober now and lost ‘… that the only value of the event, at least the personal event, is a faded memory – and there are regrets that the journey never continued. Perhaps the focus on their relationship has become over magnified on reflecting back on this one highlight after many years. It does give the feeling that it was a never to be repeated event-euphoria similar to the moon-walk.

In the final stanza he wishes his thoughts could journey to her wherever she is in the world, but of course he is caught up alone in this bitter sweet memory – for he is talking to himself as he walks through the reflective mind of a lost love.

Stephen Edgar is a contemporary Australian poet and … a link on Wikipedia …

Because – James McAuley – Analysis


My father and my mother never quarrelled.
They were united in a kind of love
As daily as the Sydney Morning Herald,
Rather than like the eagle or the dove.

I never saw them casually touch,
Or show a moment’s joy in one another.
Why should this matter to me now so much?
I think it bore more hardly on my mother,

Who had more generous feelings to express.
My father had dammed up his Irish blood
Against all drinking praying fecklessness,
And stiffened into stone and creaking wood.

His lips would make a switching sound, as though
Spontaneous impulse must be kept at bay.
That it was mainly weakness I see now,
But then my feelings curled back in dismay.

Small things can pit the memory like a cyst:
Having seen other fathers greet their sons,
I put my childish face up to be kissed
After an absence. The rebuff still stuns

My blood. The poor man’s curt embarrassment
At such a delicate proffer of affection
Cut like a saw. But home the lesson went:
My tenderness thenceforth escaped detection.

My mother sang ‘Because’, and ‘Annie Laurie’,
‘White Wings’, and other songs; her voice was sweet.
I never gave enough, and I am sorry;
But we were all closed in the same defeat.

People do what they can; they were good people,
They cared for us and loved us. Once they stood
Tall in my childhood as the school, the steeple.
How can I judge without ingratitude?

Judgment is simply trying to reject
A part of what we are because it hurts.
The living cannot call the dead collect:
They won’t accept the charge, and it reverts.

It’s my own judgment day that I draw near,
Descending in the past, without a clue,
Down to that central deadness: the despair
Older than any Hope I ever knew.

James McAuley (12 October 1917 – 15 October 1976)

The one word title ‘because’ is suggestive that some reasoning or explanation is about to take place. As soon as we read the first stanza we realise that this will be a well-crafted rhyming poem with pentameter rhythm.

S1 – JM declares the relationship between his mother and father, from his child-view, it was rather bland, routine, regular … without showing any difference from day to day – akin to the delivery of a newspaper (you don’t have to know that the Sydney Morning Herald is a well know Australian paper). A kind of love – gives the feeling of some acceptance to this situation.

S2 – There was no joy or touch – and JM poses the question – why is this important – when reflecting back over the years … a little ambivalence

S3 – It was hard for his mother if feelings were not expressed. Drinking was an issue with his father … to be regarded as fecklessness – a human failing … and his father had damned up feelings into stone

S4 – a physical aspect … his father’s lips twitched at times … and according to JM the real weakness was a lack of being able to show affection

S5 – and then the rebuff when JM does as other children and puts his face up to be kissed after returning from being away … but there is no reciprocation … a moment painfully remembered through the years

S6 – … his sensitivity … his need for affection … was not recognised by his father … his mother was more forthcoming as indicated in the next stanza

S7 – her mother was more open and JM remembers her singing with affection … and while he reminisces he regrets that he was not himself more open … more giving

S8 – now JM looks at the positives of his parents in bringing him up … they were obviously very caring people and loving in their own way … negating any judgemental attitude

S9 – being judgemental defines the nature of those judging … in this case he is perhaps blaming his own lack of sensitivity on the similar approach taken by his parents in his upbringing … and I love the last two lines of this stanza … nothing can be done now … JM is talking to himself … time to move on … so at this stage in the poem there appears to be an acceptance and a resolution in the ambivalence expressed in the opening question

S10 – JM’s thinking now escapes to his own ‘judgment day’ … how his past will be treated … he has no clue … a sense of despair … a lack of any hope in the hereafter

James McAuley (1917 – 1976) was an Australian academic, poet, journalist and literary critic … James McAuley on Wikipedia

Cut – Sylvia Plath – Analysis

For Susan O’Neill Roe

What a thrill —-
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of a hinge

Of skin,
A flap like a hat,
Dead white.
Then that red plush.

Little pilgrim,
The Indian’s axed your scalp.
Your turkey wattle
Carpet rolls

Straight from the heart.
I step on it,
Clutching my bottle
Of pink fizz.

A celebration, this is.
Out of a gap
A million soldiers run,
Redcoats, every one.

Whose side are they on?
O my
Homunculus, I am ill.
I have taken a pill to kill

The thin
Papery feeling.
Kamikaze man —

The stain on your
Gauze Ku Klux Klan
Darkens and tarnishes and when

The balled
Pulp of your heart
Confronts its small
Mill of silence

How you jump —
Trepanned veteran,
Dirty girl,
Thumb stump.

Sylvia Plath  – 24 October 1962
(1932 – 1963)

Short sharp snappy words cut to a core … appropriate construction considering the event being described … there is no time for long deliberation. She would not have had time to compose the poem at the time of the incident but it certainly provided material for her to write a poem. It was dedicated to her nanny Susan O’Neill Roe who looked after her two young children and perhaps provided the time for her to write this work.

‘Cut’ was one of many productive poems generated in October 1962 when SP lived in London after the separation with Ted Hughes and is included in her Ariel collection.

S1 … it looks like an accident when cutting an onion … but it comes as a thrill as though something exciting has happened in a dull life … or, knowing SP’s history, during a depressive state … so instead of looking on the initial experience with horror SP steps back and lets the cut open a window for exploration … the hinge indicating an escape

S2 … this is what happens as she views the cut as the first pulse of blood comes into the dead white skin … flap like a hat – nice one syllable internal rhyme

S3 … the thumb is a little pilgrim (re: American history and the scalping of missionaries by Indians) … the thumb takes on personification … a drop of blood falls on the carpet into wool and a very apt description of the red flow into wool – like a turkey wattle

S4 … perhaps SP inadvertently treads on the blood on the carpet … she might at this stage try to stop the bleeding too … her thumb becomes a bottle of ‘pink fizz’ … so there might have been quite an initial squirt … to die out as she deals with the flow by clutching on to her thumb perhaps with her other hand

S5 … SP likens the blood flow to the Redcoats (British) in the American Civil War escaping through a gap as her blood is escaping through the cut … and as she is now escaping from the drudgery of life by this event that has given her such an unexpected thrill

S6 … well, which side is the blood on … it is her blood and escaping from her … she now realises that all is not well and she has started to feel pain so takes a pill … the thumb now becomes a little man (homunculus) … some commentators have equated this reference to Ted Hughes as he has been cut-off … but like her thumb SP cannot completely cut-off TH or the flap of skin.

S7 … a thin papery feeling – apt description of the sensation as she touches the thmb … and again the male reference to a saboteur and more extreme a kamikaze – a suicide … again thoughts go to TH … whether she would like to remove TH is this fashion or alternatively whether TH has caused the cut himself by leaving her … part of her missing

S8 … it seems she has now put a gauze dressing on the thumb to stem the bleeding and that it soaked and stained the material … another male reference this time to the exclusive group the Ku Klux Klan (an extreme group that advocated white supremacy) and the gauze takes on a Russian flavour – babushka (a headscarf tied under the chin, typical of those traditionally worn by Russian women) … the thumb becomes a head wound

S9 … the flow of blood … the heart pulp … is eventually contained … the blood mill is silenced, the fizz gone … the heart equated to a mill continually circulating … and the bandage, or babushka, dirtied … and like the first stanza there is strong emotion in a jump … a jump in her thought …

S10 … the trepanned veteran (trepan – to ensnarl) … and, following my poetic fancy, – she has been caught by the TH /Assia Wevill adultery and is now a dirty girl … SP is soiled by this experience, part of herself left hanging … and then the last line – the thumb reverts to just a stump rather than any implied poetic considerations of earlier stanzas – something she just has to live with – just as she has to live with the broken relationship with TH.