Systematically Explicating a Narrative and Descriptive Poem

19 Mar 2017

The poem  below  decrying war was written by Lithuanian poet Salomeja Neris when her country was invaded by Nazi Germany. By way of showing how it is possible to explicate a narrative poem and invite readers reread the poem and grasp the meaning I will explicate her poem Spring as follows.

 

Spring

    I Spring

Once again will lilac sing,

And brooks will babble, brooks, will ring,

The heavens’ Nieman like a river

Where floes, not clouds, float on forever.

 

Spring!

In the birches flows your blood,

Green as their leaves-my hot blood!

In chilly meadow and damp dell

The trill of liberty is felt.

 

It shows in clouds above the field

And in stream where willows kneel,

In skies where swallows fly pell-mell.

Where Freedom rings its thrilling bell.

 

It sings, it chimes to me again,

Its chimes new joy and love proclaim,

New joy, new love, new life will start,

My earthly brother! Set off, heart,

Ride over hill, ride over dell

Where liberty’s light trill is felt

 

  1. An evil Ghost wheels in the sky

An evil ghost wheels in the sky. . .

The days of earthly joy fly by

Like flowers that bloom one day and die,

Or like a short-lived butterfly.

The dandelion’s weak and small;

Blow once at it-it’s gone-that is all!

Like dandelions full of glee,

A boy goes skipping on the lea.

 

“O Dandelion, brother see

All creatures want to play with me;

The flowers wave at me their hats,

And, full of life and joy,

The sun smiles at me from on high!

 

An evil ghost wheels in the sky.

The ghost’s enormous shadows creeps,

And sunshine fades, life, dying, weeps.

No nothing will the whirl wind miss!.

O Dandelion, fear its kiss!

And yet the child still plays and plays;

He’s glad at all the earth displays.

While earthly joy is running high,

An evil ghost wheels on the sky.

 

III The sun in blossom

The sun is blossoming below

Its crimson flowers in meadows blow

I only beneath the soil

Will see a sun black as oil.

The firs and oaks their boughs will spread

In that sweet world above my head.

Both pain and joy for me will pass

And life will fade like mowed -down grass

 

My love, you’ll carry my cold urn.

The ashes of our friendship warm,

The cinders that my soul will leave

Into warm hands you will receive.

 

The red sun blossoms. There, below

Red flowers throughout the meadows glow.

A black sun rises only here,

Where I lie in my graveyard sear

 

IV The Archer

Mighty and brave

Like the sun’s twin marching

Over the universe

Strides the archer.

Darkness and cold descend on the world-

Shadows from evil wings unfurled.

The raven of death waves its wings-and lo!

Awe fills our hearts, dread fills us below.

 

O, shoot, aim better,

Bold Archer –sun

One arrow of yours night is gone!

Pull, pull, Archer, your bow-string tight!

The world will revive and I too will see light.

Out of our hearts will vanish all fear

For the archer his bow-string pulls tight to his ear.

Sunshine will shower

On everything living,

Caressing us all

Loving and giving.

 

V  Friendship

Let prophets curse the world, so be it,

And of its sordidness complain

If friendship can be warm as sunlight

And bring a hint of joy to pain.

 

No matter how obscure and boundless,

How dim and dark and blind is night,

Yet all the great wide world around us

Is bathed in soft and melting light.

What light is this? Whence comes its magic?

Why does it never dim or wane?-

Of friendship born, it is the music

That, radiant, course in our veins!

 

Because of it we live and prosper, And sing, delighting in its glow;

Because of it, the forests whisper, Because of it, the rivers flow.

 

  1. The Dandelion

Dandelion, dandelion, frail and coy and light,

Standing in the very wind, feeling all its might,

Where will you lie down to rest, where will be

Your bed?

Where will you wake up when the night

 has fled?

Never stopping, blows the wind, ruffling your

Hair,

Plucking off the silver fluff till your head is bare.

Over empty fields it flies, over barren roads,

Far away the fluff is blown, in white flocks it

goes.

Dandelion, dandelion, uncomplaining brother,

Sorry am I for your head-you will have no

 other.

Sorry am I for my youth, sad and poor in joy,

Which the boy has carried like a wicked

boy

Better were I fruitless sand or slept in the damp

                                                                    Earth,

Better were I anything than what I am by birth,

Better had I fallen down in the Nieman cold,

Better that the Nieman’s stream over me had

rolled.

 

For a discerning eye the central tension in this poem is between war and peace. The impending catastrophic specter of war looming large is showed by the recurrent metaphoric expression an evil ghost wheels in the sky (S2).

 

Using spring as a public symbol of bliss and peace as well as creating a personal   metaphor that brooks will babble brooks will sing (S1) the persona records a firm hope that the statuesque restored peace will reign supreme. The extract once again (S1) shows peace is under treat. Each word in the poem shows every fiber of the poet is itching for peace.

 

 Using the metaphoric expression like a flower that bloom one day and die Or like a short lived butterfly (S2) the poet shows a daily mounting death toll is squarely facing human beings changing their life into woes. The words flower and butterfly show the casualty or the worst hit mainly comprises  young children.

 

Dandelion (S2), a special flower, is metaphorically used to represent young boys. Also the line “Blow once at it, it’s gone, that is all!” (S2) shows the ghost (war) is nipping flowers (youngster) in the bud.

 

Youngsters unaware death is in store for them, probably overwhelmed by the motley flower like uniform they don or perhaps not grasping the full import of war, march to the front with a high glee. Standersby bless off the marchers. This as well is showed by the “flowers wave at me their hats.”(S2)

The ghost’s enormous shadow creeps and sunshine fades show the enraged ghost of war, whirlwind (S2 ) casting its shadow on peace, is mercilessly  slaying young boys (Dandelions). The ghost’s brutality (kiss,S2)  dandelions would like to evade. With the lines I only from beneath the soil /will see a sun black as oil(S3) display the narrator has passed away. Also the simile a sun black as oil shows the specter of war is not averted. Another simile life will fade like mowed down grass (S3) popularize the enormity of the death toll, that comes on the wake of the specter. The sun is also used as a metaphor of an archer, a hero. An archer shoot an arrow while a sun spreads rays. As the rays (arrows of sun) dissipate darkness, so do arrows from archer for they ensure freedom.

O, shoot, aim better  (S4)

Bold-Archer-sun

And light is gone

Pull, pull, archer, your bow-string tight!

The world will revive

And I too will see light

The narrator also metaphorically represents peace with a sun that allows people to bask in its glory. Though the narrator engulfed by the shadows of war seems to show despair yet still s/he harbors hope.

Plucking off the silver fluff till your head is bare shows the young boys referred as little eagles in the poem are bearing pain and sustaining injuries. The persona indicates the figurative speech all the great wide world around is bathed in soft and melting light as a symbol to the presence of peace in the neighborhood, a beacon of hope for those sweltering under war.

Fair, coy and light (S6) shows young boys, while standing in the wind(S6) means at war.

The poetical extract the night has fled suggests  the reversal of aggression.

Brother  (S6)

Sorry am I for your head you will have no other.

Sad and poor in joy

The wind took away a wicked boy

Better in the Noeman cold

I had fallen.

The extracts above show, a despairing citizen caught up in the tempest of war and besieged by anxieties and mournful as a blood hued sunset. As clearly showed above, to lament the youth being cut by war, the persona uses the metaphoric expressions, a ghost and a terrible wind.

The tension of imageries of war and peace and the persona’s seesawing from one emotion into another is one input to the unifying theme. The following are word images, metaphoric expressions and personifications that create tributary paths to the central theme. They hint at peace: spring, lilac (small trees with flagrant flower), sing, brooks, babble, brooks ring, floes float, thrill, liberty, stream, willows kneel, skies, swallow pell-mell, freedom rings, thrilling bell, sings, chimes, joy, love, proclaim, new, joy, life, brother, ride, light, earthly joy, bloom, blue, all creatures play, flowers wave hat, sun smiles, plays, good joy running high. Blossoming, crimson flower, soft melting light, we live, prosper, sing, delighting, glow, whisper, rivers flow.

Notice that all the imageries above are borrowed from nature, which takes the normal flow if the statuesque remains undisturbed. The images, metaphors, personifications that show war are evil, ghost, wheels (torture consisting a wheel, a ring of fire) die, dim, dark, blind, night, death, short-lived, blow, gone, ghost’s, shadow, creeps,(sunshine) fades, might, (life), dying, weeps, whirlwind, its kiss, black, never, stopping, blows the wind, ruffling your hair. Darkness, cold, descends, shadows, evil wings, unfurled (Unfolded). Raven of death waves its wings, awe, dread.

Similarly the figurative expressions that show death are, I only beneath the soil will see

the sun black as oil, the firs and oaks their boughs will spread in that sweet world above my head, life fade,  mowed –down grass, cold urn, ashes, cinder, black sun, I lie in my graveyard sear, grave yard sear, plucking off, bare, wind, carried as a wicked boy, head you will have no other.

Images that suggest it is young children who are marching to the front are: flowers, butterfly, dandelion (a plant native to Europe having yellow flowers), full of glee, weak, small, child, frail, coy, light.

The metaphoric expression the poet employed in rendering the poem vivid are dandelion for young children, evil ghost for war, wheels on the sky for war looms large, spring for peace, flowers for solders marching, whirlwind for the devastating blows of war.

 The tensions in the poem are between: joy/pain, light/dark, rays of sun/cloud, death/life, appeasing aggression/condemning aggression and war/peace. The semantic oddities  or ambiguities at sentence level put in a form of personification are lilac sing, brooks babble, brooks sing. We also see a subtle use of language such as inversion. The ambiguities at sentence level the poem shows are listed below

 Once again will lilac sing, and brooks will babble, brooks will ring. The heaven’s Nieman like a river where floes, not clouds,  float on forever suggest once again peace reigns supreme aggression reversed, nature or life takes its normal course. In chilly meadow and damp dell means all around. While Ride over hill, ride over dell where liberty’s light thrill is felt hints fight to the end paying all the necessary sacrifices. An evil ghost wheels in the sky. The days of earthly joy fly by like flowers that bloom one day and die or like a short-lived butterfly means war has stricken out joy from the life of people and marred day to day activities. It could as well mean death is taking a larger toll; even young children (flowers, butterflies, dandelions) couldn’t evade the blow. The ghost’s enormous shadow creeps. And sunshine fades, life, dying, weeps suggest the specter of war looms large. No, nothing will the whirlwind miss, dandelion fears its kiss suggest the blow is so severe that it doesn’t spare anyone the strong and feeble alike. And yet the child still plays and plays; he’s glad at all the earth displays, while earthly joy is running high, an evil ghost wheels on the sky suggest young children are not fully aware of the impending catastrophe. Both, pain and joy for me will pass, life will fade like mowed -down grass, I only beneath the soil will see the sun black as oil, black sun rises only here where I lie in my graveyard sear suggests the persona is dead. You’ll carry my cold urn ashes of our friendship, where the ciders that my soul will leave, into warm hands you will receive, hints at the persona’s and the compatriots’ love for the country, peace, freedom and heroic deed will be vindicated by posterity. Darkness and cold descend on the world, shadow from evil wings unfurled, The raven of death waves its wings-and lo. Awe fills our hearts; dread fills all below could mean a full-scale war is unleashed. O, shoot, aim better bold archer sun one arrow of yours And night is gone suggests like the way the rays of a sun melts clouds and darkness a bullet from a heroic sniper could herald freedom. See the following extract pull, pull, archer, your bow-string tight! The world will revive and I too will see light. Out of our hearts will vanish all fear, for the archer his bow string pulls tight to his ear suggests we haven’t lost hope for our combatants are ready to salvage us paying the necessary sacrifices. Let prophets curse the world, so be it, And of its sordidness complain if friendship can’t be warm as sunlight And bring a hint of joy to pain suggests stopping appeasing aggression neighboring countries should help a country victimized by war. No matter how obscure and boundless, how dim and dark and blind is night, yet all the great wide world around us is bathed in soft and melting light means though our country is in war there is peace all around. Because of it, we live and prosper, And sing, delighting in its glow, because of it, the forests whisper, because of it, the rivers flow suggest peace as a beacon draws us forward. Dandelion, dandelion, frail and coy and light, standing in the very wind, feeling all its might, where will you lie down to rest, where will be your bed? Where will you wake up at dawn when the night has fled suggests young children though physically delicate to face war they are tasting to the full the brunt of a full scale war and God only knows how many of these children survive and reminisces the sad episode in retrospect.

    Never stopping, blows the wind, ruffling your hair, plucking of the silver fluff till your head is bare. Over empty fields it flies suggests far away from their native motherland children face the incessant ugly blows of war. Dandelion, dandelion, uncomplaining brother, Sorry am I for your head-you will have no other suggests you will be dead. Better had I fallen down in Nieman cold, Better that the Nieman’s stream over me had rolled suggests I wish I dropped dead in my mother soil Nieman sand than in a foreign land. Next we see inversion in the extracts in the poem skillfully used for aesthetic effect: will vanish all fear, its sordidness complain, sorry am I for my youth, Better were I. The major personifications used are the ghost’s enormous shadow creeps, life dying weeps, flowers wave at me their hats, full of life and joy, sun smiles and crimson flowers blow. Condemning war is of a universal significance. This poem, which shows organic unity, is aesthetically and thematically unsurpassed.

 

BY ALEM HAILU

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