Elegy for Jane
(My student, thrown by a horse)
By Theodore Roethke
I remember the neckcurls
, limp and damp as
And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel
And how, once startled into talk, the light syllables leaped for
And she balanced in the delight of her thought
, happy, tail into the wind,
Her song trembling
the twigs and small branches.
The shade sang with her;
The leaves, their whispers
turning to kissing
the mold sang in the bleached valleys under the rose
Oh, when she was
sad, she cast herself down into such a pure depth,
Even a father could not find her;
Scraping her cheek
against straw;Stirring the clearest water
My sparrow, you are not
Waiting like a fern, making a spiny
The sides of wet stones cannot console me
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.
I could nudge you from this sleep
darling, my skittery pigeon
Over this damp grave I
speak the words of my love
I, with no rights in
Neither father nor lover.
Roethke’s “Elegy for Jane” describes the speaker’s mournfulness at the death of
his student, Jane. In the first two
stanzas, the speaker, a man who is Jane’s teacher, is speaking to a general
audience about his memories of Jane as a youthful, emotional girl. This reminiscence juxtaposes with the last
three stanzas, in which the speaker, while standing over Jane’s grave,
expresses to her the sorrow he experiences due to her death. Additionally, the contrasting imagery between
the speaker’s memories of Jane and the imagery when he visits her grave on a
rainy day further show the death’s impact on the teacher. In this elegy, through contrasting visual and
auditory imagery, figurative language, and juxtaposition, the speaker reveals
the pain he experiences from the death of a student he admired and cared for.
two stanzas of the poem detail Jane’s youthful and highly emotional
nature. The speaker describes her as
capable of being at the extremes of sadness and joy. For example, in the first stanza, the speaker
reminisces on the power of her joyfulness.
Many vivid verbs are used to describe her actions, such as how the
“syllables leaped for her,” and how she “balanced in the delight of her
thought,” highlighting her vitality and life.
The speaker even uses a simile to compare Jane’s hair to tendrils, a
living plant. Another simile comparing
Jane to a wren shows her propensity to sing.
Furthermore, her voice modified the environment around her, causing the branches
to tremble and the leaves to kiss her, underlining the power of her voice;
however, the shade and the “mold…under the rose” also sang with her,
foreshadowing her unforeseen death. However,
the speaker states that Jane was not only a exuberant person, but also was a
person who dived into melancholy. At the
beginning of the second stanza, the speaker states that when she was troubled,
she threw herself so deep into depression that “Even a father could not find
her.” In her depression, Jane would lie
in straw and cry strongly, evoking images of extreme emotion. These first two stanzas serve to detail the
speaker’s memories of Jane during her short life in which she was filled with
emotion, oscillating between extreme joy and depression.
In the last
three stanzas, however, her teacher contrasts the energy of her life to her
death. Additionally, he laments the loss
of the energetic Jane and proclaims his love for her, underlining the pain he
feels at losing someone he admired and cared for. For example, the metaphor comparing Jane to a
sparrow evokes images of Jane’s vitality.
However, in the next line, the
speaker compares her to a fern making a spiny shadow, indicating that the
speaker only has memories to remember Jane by.
He visits her grave on a rainy day, as he says that the wet stones and
moss near her grave cannot console him.
The visual imagery of Jane’s grave juxtaposed with the imagery of a
life-filled environment in the first two stanzas highlights the impact of
Jane’s loss. Furthermore, the contrast
between “maimed darling” and “skittery pigeon” underline the difference between
Jane in life and Jane in death.
in “Elegy for Jane” presents a portrait of his thoughts as he stands at the
deceased Jane’s grave on a rainy day.
First, he nostalgically recalls images of Jane in her youthful life,
followed by laments about her death.
Additionally, although he is not her father or lover, he was her teacher
who cared for her and admired her. Throughout
the poem, the speaker laments the loss of a person who was filled with energy
and life by detailing her emotional extremes and telling of his pain due to her
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