Moors – Ted Hughes – Analysis


Are a stage for the performance of heaven.
Any audience is incidental.

A chess-world of top heavy Kings and Queens
Circling in stilted majesty
Tremble the bog-cotton
Under the sweep of their robes.

Fools in sunny motley tumble across,
A laughter – fading in full view
To grass tips tapping at stones.

The witch-brew boiling in the sky-vat
Spins electrical terrors
In the eyes of sheep.

Fleeing wraith-lovers twist and collapse
In death-pack languor
To bedew harebells
On the spoil-heaps of quarries.

Wounded champions lurch out of sunset
To gurgle their last gleams into pot-holes.

Shattered bowed armies, huddling leaderless
Escape from a world
Where snipe work late.

Ted Hughes

This is a poem taken from a series of poems based on a set Yorkshire photos given to TH by Fay Goodwin (a photographer and contemporary) … ‘Remnants of Elmet’ … The Calder valley west of Halifax … was the last ditch of Elmet, the last British Celtic kingdom to fall … an inhabitable wilderness which became the cradle for the industrial revolution … before the mills and chapels died and the population changed.

This is an example of ‘ekphrastic poetry’ where a poem is in response to another artistic form – in this case a photograph. It would be interesting to compare the imagery invoked by the words and Fay Goodwin’s photo.

What a wonderful first line … ‘Are a stage for the performance of heaven’ … the moors being a lonely land much untouched by man having the sky to itself and all the sky has to offer … very much in evidence on wild fury days … and ‘Any audience is incidental’ … a great place to encounter nature and to get away from the madding crowd.

The stones are displayed as a disordered set of chess pieces – again it would be interesting to see the photograph. They are all kings and queens so one might assume they are all large and of equal size. The stones obviously have supporting stones in the way they are presented. Stilted majestystilt = a long post or column that is used with others to support a building above ground level. And it appears they are seated on unstable ground – ‘tremble the bog-cotton’.

‘Fools in sunny motley’ implies that some visitors to the moor are ill-prepared for the nature of the moor. And the weather is likened to a witch brew the sky a vat. And as the weather intensifies with clouds collapsing it appears some rain touches harebells that grow near the discarded heaps from old quarries.

The last two stanzas give the impression of a disappearing moor as daylight swallows the stones … as they merge together without a leader. A time when snipe are busy … ‘snipe work late’ … I guess TH would know about this as he was very familiar with this part of the world. A nice closing line giving a sense of foreboding.

To a friend – Allen Curnow – Analysis

To a Friend

Old friend, dear friend, some day
when I have had my say, and the world its way,
when all that is left is the gathering in of ends,
and forgathering of friends,
on some autumn evening when the mullet leap
in a sea of silver-grey,
then, O then I will come again
and stay for as long as I may,
stay till the time for sleep;
gaze at the rock that died before me,
the sea that lives for ever;
of air and sunlight, frost and wave and cloud,
and all the remembered agony and joy
fashion my shroud.

Allen Curnow (1911 – 2001) New Zealand poet and journalist

Shroud – veil cover … burial cloth
Forgathering – formal assembly

Dissolving into the environment on an autumn evening as he himself comes to the final days of his life … when he has had his say … he was a distinguished and internationally recognised poet who won the Queen’s Gold Award and brought New Zealand firmly to the forefront by his poetry … he lived a long life and it’s nice to think that he is happy about his accomplishment and that his work is now complete … and the world has had its way … a somewhat philosophic contemplation on how the world has dealt with him in his lifetime … the world seen as a person of action in which he has to accept what ever occurs.

… then comes the finalisation of what needs to be done for his personal completion … when all that is left is the gathering of ends … resurrected into the living world of nature … remembering all life – the basic elements – air, sunlight, frost, wave, cloud – equated to the agony and joy of existence.

gaze at the rock that died before me … the rock was formed through process and died long ago … a completion of a process … he has now completed his process (poetically speaking)

… the sea that lives for ever … reflecting on the constant energy and movement of the sea … life will go on endlessly … and then he too is part of nature as he absorbs into the environment

remembered agony and joy … joy and sorrow were part of his life and will be part of his burial cloth … the common threads through all humanity

Allen Curnow was born in 1911 in Timaru, New Zealand. He was a fifth generation New Zealander. His father was an Anglican Minister and during his childhood Curnow moved to many parishes with his parents and lived in a succession of Anglican vicarages. Canterbury, Belfast, Malvern, Lyttelton and New Brighton to name a few.

A few years ago I watched a brilliant documentary on Allen Curnow entitled ‘Early Days yet’ which was recorded towards the end of his life. See …

He is perhaps regarded as the definitive New Zealand poet.

A link to Allen Curnow on Wikipedia

A Jet Ring Sent – John Donne – Analysis

A Jet Ring Sent

THOU art not so black as my heart,
Nor half so brittle as her heart, thou art ;
What would’st thou say ? shall both our properties by thee be spoke,
—Nothing more endless, nothing sooner broke?

Marriage rings are not of this stuff ;
Oh, why should ought less precious, or less tough
Figure our loves ? except in thy name thou have bid it say,
“—I’m cheap, and nought but fashion ; fling me away.”

Yet stay with me since thou art come,
sBe justly proud, and gladly safe, that thou dost dwell with me ;
She that, O ! broke her faith, would soon break thee.

John Donne (1572 – 1631)

John Donne survived the crackdown on the Catholic Church under Elizabeth I to eventually become an Anglican priest and Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

To really understand the wording you need knowledge of ‘Jet’ as a gemstone …

Jet is a black gemstone (the eponymous ‘jet black’), but not strictly a mineral: like coal, it originates in decaying wood fossilized under extreme pressure. It is relatively soft, warmer to the touch than regular rock, light, and easy to carve – though not in fine detail because it is very brittle.

S1 … Did John Donne send a ‘Jet Ring’ to a lover and was it the start of a deeper marriage proposal. We do not know. But the ring has been returned by the lady and the poet (perhaps JD) is now in reflected thought and asks the ring to speak. The ring possesses both properties of the two in question. Black – JD’s heart is blacker, and brittle – that of the lady in breaking the relationship. The ring is endless (JD’s love) – and because it is ‘jet’ easily broke and it was easy for the lady to be dismissive of his love and break him.

S2 … The lady is talking saying that JD has represented her as cheap and nought but fashion (as the ring) and Jette is French for throw and a pun is in evidence. So it is to be done as the ring suggests – for marriage is not made of this stuff – so it is sent back. In his earlier days JD was a womaniser and initial sending  of the ring may have been superficial – we do not know.

S3 … JD wants to keep the returned ring and he circles the ring with his thumb in the same way the lady must have held it – and the ring dwells proud and safe with JD in the same way his love dwells likewise. The ring will always be a reminder of that fact. It will not be broken though of brittle material for he will keep it safe.

This is a link to another WordPress site which gives an excellent analysis of this poem …

And details of the life of John Donne on Wikipedia …

The good thing was, of course, that Donne was not undone by this turn down – so to the lady perhaps.

Metaphors – Sylvia Plath – Analysis


I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

Sylvia Plath

Metaphor = the use to describe somebody or something of a word or phrase that is not meant literally but by means of a vivid comparison expresses something about him, her, or it, e.g. saying that somebody is a snake.

Riddle = a puzzle in the form of a question or rhyme that contains clues to its answer

Tendril = a modified stem, leaf, or other part of a climbing plant, usually in the form of a thread, that coils around and attaches the plant to supporting objects

The poem has nine lines and each line has nine syllables. It is a little unusual for a poem to be swamped by metaphors – so the title quite appropriate.

A pregnant lady can be an elephant (maybe the way she feels about herself in making movement) – a ponderous house (thinking about herself as containing life) – a melon on two tendrils (gives emphasis to a large round body with thin legs).

A red fruit, ivory, fine timbers – red fruit = ready to be picked, the elephant is valued for ivory – a woman for childbirth – fine timbers has sexual connotations perhaps … how the pregnancy was established (structured)

Pregnant body is a big loaf in the making or a fat purse containing a coin in the making (something of value, and kept safe in a purse).

The pregnant lady a means to production and a stage in the process and the bag of green apples implies a certain uncomfortable feeling in the stomach.

But the last sentence is all important – a decision and a commitment – the journey ahead unknown – perhaps a little trepidation in what lies ahead.

Note that this was written before SP became pregnant – perhaps at the time she was deciding – standing on the station so to speak … and the puzzle only solved with time.

Silver – Walter de la Mare – Analysis


Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in silver feathered sleep
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

Walter de la Mare

Shoon = dress (Scottish)
Casements = windows
Cote – small shelter for birds (dove-cote)
Moveless = motionless

This sonnet of 7 double line rhyming personifies the moon and how she ‘silvers’ the night scene as she walks along. Silver has different connotations such as colour, currency and precious value.

At night the moon has the ability to colour the common place with its own distinct fingers. It changes everything seen in daytime. Green trees suddenly become silver trees.

Perhaps the poem is about how we perceive things and how, in different situations, we and others might perceive the same scene completely differently. And if we were to become ‘the moon’ how do we colour life with our own personality? Silver is a precious metal – do we colour in a precious way? I could also say that hopefully we bring light into dark places. And if we think of silver as money then it can bring value.

It has particular significance for me as I had to recite it when at primary school. We had elocution lessons and at the end of one term we had to recite this poem before a representative from the UK Poetry Society (namely the poet Roberta Shuttleworth 1895-1965) and we were judged on the ‘art of speaking verse’.

I think it a fine choice of poem for a child as it encourages the use of imagination – to become the moon and to do her painting.

To memorise there are 7 key words for the double-lines – Moon, Fruit, Casements, Dog, Dove, Mouse and Fish. Only the second lines contain the word ‘silver’ and the second lines do the colouring of the objects under consideration.

More analysis is on this site –

For interest, below are the Poetry Society Certificates from my primary school days –


Sonnet 15 – Elizabeth Barrett Browning – Analysis

Sonnet 15

Accuse me not, beseech thee, that I wear
Too calm and sad a face in front of thine;
For we two look two ways, and cannot shine
With the same sunlight on our brow and hair.
On me thou lookest with no doubting care,
As on a bee shut in a crystalline;
Since sorrow hath shut me safe in love’s divine,
And to spread wing and fly in the outer air
Were most impossible failure, if I strove
To fail so. But I look on thee—on thee—
Beholding, besides love, the end of love,
Hearing oblivion beyond memory;
As one who sits and gazes from above,
Over the rivers to the bitter sea.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 – 1861)

From ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’, written ca. 1845–1846 and first published in 1850, a collection of 44 love sonnets written after she met her husband Robert Browning. The collection was acclaimed and popular in the poet’s lifetime and it remains so today.

L1-4 … we see life differently – we have different emotions and the poet (EBB) asks to be accepted when seen as calm and sad

L5-7 … you (Robert) look on me (EBB) as viewing locked beauty because of love – as a crystalline bee … it suggests precious jewellery

L8-10 (part – … if I strove to fail so.) … and if I were to strive to fly away you would still see me in that light

L10 (part – But I look on thee …) -14 … but I look on you and think of the end of our love … when I will forget you … without memory … as one who gazes beyond the rivers (the present time of my life) to a bitter sea (a future time) – implies death when all is lost forgotten and no more … our love is a mere diminishing window when compared to the enormity of the never ending procession of time

Details of Elizabeth Barrett Browning on Wikipedia –

I Am – John Clare – Analysis

I Am

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest–that I loved the best–
Are strange–nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below–above the vaulted sky.

John Clare

Details of this poem on Wikipedia –

And from –
“I Am,” undoubtedly Clare’s most famous poem (we think it might be his best too). Clare probably wrote this poem around in 1844 or 1845, which means he wrote it during trip number 2 to the asylum. While it possibly refers to the decaying state of Clare’s mind (old friends seem strange, language seems like noise), the poem is also a beautiful description of loneliness and change. Even as his friends have begun to desert him or treat him as if he were dead, the speaker insists on reaffirming the fact that he is alive, that he “is” (and we’re just assuming that the speaker is a “he” here). It is the extreme sadness brought on by this loneliness that partly accounts for his death wish in the poem’s final stanza.

Looking at the last stanza …

He longs for departure from this world to somewhere different away from man and woman – away from humanity and to abide with his creator (God).
The last lines are the most memorable for he reflects back to the innocence of his childhood when sleep and life was untroubled. And the last line, – ‘the grass below – above the vaulted sky’ – speaks of a natural cathedral – when he had a communion with his creator – perhaps unrecognised in his childhood but as he reflects back he realises that this was a special wonder of early life.

Dead Nun – Nicola Bowery – Analysis

Dead Nun

Flattened crow, wheeled out
like a lesson in arithmetic.
Death, minus one,
taught by a pickled nun.

I’m not ready for instruction.
Spiders stiffen quietly in corners,
an ant kisses the sand.
I am as virgin of death as they come.

Mother Agatha is dead.
Hurry girls, form a line.
I don’t want to. She’ll smell.
Move on, move on!
You’re not at death’s door yet.

She wasn’t a person, not even a beetle.
Kept in the back room to wither in secret
then served up on a trolley after homework.
She’s gone to Jesus. Say goodbye.
I don’t want to say goodbye.

The line is moving at the pace of one peep only,
the chapel suffocates in chrysanthemums.
There’s a faint whiff of fish,
the smug stare of too many candles,
the sputter of a giggle about to burst.

She’s very neat in her tight-fitting box,
a cardboard cut-out, black feathered still,
her tiny paper hands folded in a holy posture.
She looks beyond the fuss of genuflection.
What about her bridal gown, her smile for Jesus,
the hole her soul escaped from?

I want to jab her toe
and ask her where she’s going
but my knees are melting.
I want to be horizontal and carted away.
There are too many candles in Heaven.

Hush girls, off to bed.

Nicola Bowery, Bloodwood, Bunda Press 1996

The following is my interpretation on the above and as always read the poem and ponder your own thoughts before the colouring of your mind by my words.

Looking at each stanza …

S1 … great opening stanza …goes straight to the focus of the poem – the wheeling out of a dead nun – a nun who taught maths …nice number framing of a death (-1 teacher, or Life – 1 = Death + 1) taught by a pickled nun – on first reading I had the impression the nun taught while ‘pickled’ – could be a cynical view of nuns in general as being preserved for heaven.

S2 … well a different form of instruction now taking place! – first death experience – compare with her current experience of death (crushed ant or a spider) … we can start to put an age on the girl

S3 … the herding by the nuns … very believable language and response … reluctance, and and the young girls equating death to yuk

S4 … tells it all on how this girl felt about nuns – or this nun in particular … kept in a backroom nicely fits the preservation concept and now after death she is being served up (not to heaven – but to the girls on a trolley) … she may have gone to Jesus – but you get the feeling she is very much here

S5 … you can imagine the girls slowing passing the body and the various reactions … and the proliferation of candles which view with a smug stare (well, they are still alive) … and the abundance of flowers

S6 … genuflection was a word that tripped me – it looks like reflection across the generations – I wanted to look it up in the dictionary straight away
(genuflection = to bend the right knee to the floor and rise again as a gesture of religious respect, especially in a Roman Catholic or Anglican church)
But ‘the hole her soul escaped from’ – implies distaste for the nunnery-life – akin to the preserved in a jar from the first stanza. The act of going to Jesus has an unknown and cynical flavour.

S7 … the unknown journey from death makes her think – where has she gone – if only she could tell me – ‘I want to jab her toe’ … but it is all too much – she would like to be horizontal too (bed time) – the proliferation of candles combines to overwhelm – the thought of heaven too much

Summary – I really like this poem for it gives a vivid description of a very believable school experience and the early age personal confrontation with death – combined with a questioning of the life of the nun – it reminds me of that wonderful 1959 film ‘The Nun’s Story’ with Peter Finch and Audrey Hepburn.

Such a poignant ending to the film when Sister Luke (Audrey Hepburn) leaves the convent, her vows and the life and friends she has known, to walk through the door by herself to start her life as a new person – into the ‘real’ world bustle, ‘real’ life. I remember watching this very moving film when I was a schoolboy.

Nicola Bowery is a local Braidwood poet … here is a link for those interested in reading more of Nicola’s work – –