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A Short Analysis of Sylvia Plath’s ‘Elm’

Like many of her poems, including her mature poems from her late period, ‘Elm’ is an obscure Sylvia Plath poem which resists straightforward analysis. Plath’s complex and ambiguous use of symbolism renders ‘Elm’, if not impenetrable, then at the very least, challenging. You can read ‘Elm’ here before proceeding to our analysis of the poem below.

The elm tree is a tree associated with rebirth. Unlike the yew tree – which, in Plath’s ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’, is associated with masculinity, Christianity, and death – the elm tree offers hope of revival and resurrection. Like another Sylvia Plath poem which has attracted a good deal of analysis and commentary, ‘Lady Lazarus’, ‘Elm’ is about rebirth, but with the knowledge that in order to be reborn there must first be death. Read the rest of this entry


A Short Analysis of Ted Hughes’s ‘Snowdrop’

‘Snowdrop’ is a short poem by Ted Hughes (1930-98), perhaps the greatest nature poet writing in English during the entire twentieth century. Only Edward Thomas can match Hughes for the attention to detail and the powerful yet unsentimental treatment of the natural world (and notably, Hughes called Thomas ‘the father of us all’). You can read ‘Snowdrop’ here before proceeding to our brief analysis of the poem below.

A fine winter poem, this. ‘Snowdrop’ was published in Ted Hughes’s second collection of poems, Lupercal, in 1960. In just eight lines of couplets – which don’t rhyme in the traditional sense, but instead utilise pararhyme and consonance (tight/heart, brass/darkness, minds/ends, month/metal), a favourite device of Hughes’s – the poet sets the winter scene. Read the rest of this entry

The Anxiety of the Thirties: Richard Aldington’s Life Quest

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads Richard Aldington’s Life Quest, the modernist long poem that time forgot

The standout modernist long poem of the 1920s was The Waste Land. T. S. Eliot’s poem redefined what modernism could do in poetry, influenced by James Joyce’s example of the ‘mythical method’ in his novel Ulysses and the various Symbolist and imagist experiments in French and English verse. It captured a moment and mood of post-war desolation and uncertainty, a world in ruin plagued by fears and anxieties, ennui and a lack of self-confidence. But what happened to the modernist long poem in the 1930s at another moment of anxiety and transition has been less well-covered by scholars and critics of modernism.

The thirties belong to W. H. Auden, and to a lesser extent those who moved in his orbit but were good, or very good, poets in their own right: Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, the ‘Pylon poets’. Curiously, Auden more or less began his poetic career with a highly unusual work, caught between Read the rest of this entry