Black Rook in Rainy Weather – Sylvia Plath – Analysis

Black Rook in Rainy Weather

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain-
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then —
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honour
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); sceptical
Yet politic, ignorant

Of whatever angel any choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur.
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance
Miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel,

For that rare, random descent.

Sylvia Plath (1957)

This poem was written in 1956 and published in 1957 when Sylvia Plath would have been about 24 years old. She had married Ted Hughes in June 1956 (Bloomsbury Day) and she would have been living in England (Cambridge) and studying. It was the first SP poem that I read and prompted me to find out more about her – and that lead to discovering the relationship with Ted Hughes.

Here is a link to a You-Tube audio of SP reading this poem

Ostensibly this is a poem about boredom and living in a dull wintry environment with no respite from the depressing English weather … (even in this dull, ruinous landscape), remembering too that SP was used to ‘Boston’ weather. But at times miracles occur and simple objects radiate a heavenly aspect. However there are long waits for such happenings – (for that rare random descent).

For me her words underscore the nature of bipolar depression, albeit with a somewhat philosophic acceptance, – the many days of depression broken by an occasional intense high before the onset of many more depressive days. In this regard it is a poem which resonates and I placed a post on the ‘Sylvia Plath Forum’ several years ago which gives an explanation. Here is the link … (you will have to scroll to the archived Post for 27 October 2001).

And I do I like the choice of her words … well poetry was her vocation and she spent much thought in the use of words in expressing her poetic voice. And unlike many SP poems this poem is readily accessible as well as being an honest reflection on her state of mind.

Desultory – unfocused, aimless
Portent – sign, omen
Largesse – generosity, benevolence
Politic – tactful, diplomatic
Incandescent – luminous, radiant
Inconsequent – unimportant, insignificant
Celestial – heavenly, holy

Your word in my ear ...

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