The poem The Thorn
was composed by the British
writer William Wordsworth
. I have summarized the poem by retelling in depth everything that is contained in each of its 22 stanza
s. This method of summary is useful because the stanzas form an important part of the poem
. Each of the stanzas builds upon, transforms, or reiterates what was told in the stanzas before.. As you follow the summary of the poem from the first stanza
to the last, you'll get a sense of the way in which the poem moves itself forward by continually deepening its level of detail
1. Describes a thorn tree
that is overgrown with lichens, its joints knotted. The author describes it as sad, aging, and decrepit.
2. Describes how the thorn is overgrown with mosses jutting out from the earth, that seem to want to drag the thorn tree into the ground. The author expresses compassion for the tree and seems to sympathize with its decrepitude and strangulation by the nearby growing moss.
3. The thorn tree's location is established as the highest cliff
of a mountain that is frequently subjected to heavy hailstorms. Nearby is a pond
whose water is in the process of dying out from the heat of the sun
4. There is a heap of earth on the mountain cliff
, very close to the thorn tree. It is covered by moss just like the tree next to it. However the moss on the heap is beautiful; it looks like a skillfully woven patchwork.. perhaps like a pattern on a carpet
or a silk weave
. Also growing nearby are cups, flowers whose red glow the author finds eye catchingly beautiful
5. The author
, seemingly out of the blue, mentions that the heap of earth near the thorn seems to him to be the size of an infant's grave. The author does not yet explain why the heap of earth seems to inspire such a dreadful image in his mind. Inexplicably he also says that the heap of earth is more beautiful than any other he has ever seen. That's because the moss that grows on this heap shines with all kinds of colors - "lovely tints" of "olive green" and "scarlet bright"... This testament to the beauty of the moss
growing on the heap of earth refers back to stanza 4, where the author marvels at how this same moss looks like a skillfully woven patchwork. Also, in contrast to his earlier descriptions of the thorn tree as decrepit, the author is now on the contrary impressed by the beautiful colors of green, read, and pearly white that its spikes and branches give off.
6.. The author advises readers to be cautious about visiting the spot by the mountain cliff with the pond, the thorn tree, and the heap of earth. He advises the reader that during such a visit he may encounter a woman
bedecked in a scarlet cape tearfully crying, "Oh misery!"
7. The woman comes to this spot so often that all the forces of nature are intimately acquianted with her. The blowing winds
and all the stars
recognize her. She sits on the cliff next to the thorn tree day and night, in the freezing air of winter, all the while crying "Oh Misery
8.The author admits himself to be puzzled and curious about why this red cloaked woman frequently comes to this spot in brutally cold weather
and sits around shedding tears... He emphasizes that while sitting on the mountain cliff, the woman is subjected to rain
s, and snowstorm
s, none of which stir her to abandon her spot and seek shelter from inclement weather.
9. The narrator encourages the reader to visit the woman spot, but to first check to see that she is in her hut
. Otherwise, the reader might inadvertently stumble into the woman as he arrives on the mountain cliff with the thorn tree, the heap that looks like a grave
, and the pond that is drying out.
10. The author tells us that 20 years ago the woman, Martha Ray, was supposed to marry Stephen Hill. Her family approved of the marriage
and she herself was overjoyed to wed the man whom she loved deeply.
11. However, on the scheduled wedding
day Stephen Hill chose another bride who he had courted unbeknown to Martha. On that same day, the author says that a fire was enflamed within Martha's heart that would never die away.
12.In the summer six months after her not-to-be wedding, Martha would often climb up to the cliff spot with the thorn and the tree. The author speculates that she might have gone up to the spot either to find there an outlet for her sorrow
or to hide from others her very evident pregnancy
13. Wilford, a resident of the glen told that Martha's pregnancy managed to lift her depression
, to the point that she no longer looked crazy and sad by the time the child was about to be born.
14. No one in town seems to know what hapenned to Martha's child. Whether it was born or died during pregnancy is a mystery. Some think that it may have been born dead. Either way, people do know that around the time of the pregnancy Martha would continue frequently climbing to her beloved mountain spot.
15. At night, people have reported hearing cries of the mountain
.. Some believed that it was the cry of dead people
, as well as those living. This is a rather eery description, that the author does not care to elaborate. The author does say that it would have been worthwhile for the reader, in those nights when the cries were heard, to climb up the path to the mountaintop, paying no attention to the violent blowing of the wind
. Such a night-time trip to the mountaintop would reveal to the reader the mystery of the loud crying.
16. The author says that he can personally testify that Martha had come to sit by the thorn tree on the mountaintop because when he first came to town, he stumbled into her at that location. He had not then heard of her and merely intended to obtain an eagle's view of the ocean
from the top of the mountain with the help of a telescope
17. As he was climbing up the mountain top it had began to thunder
. Seeking shelter from inclement weather, he had a seen a small cave
of rock which he thought could protect him from the rain. However, this was an optical illusion
, which is no suprise considering that it was mist
y at the time. Instead of finding a cave of rock on the mountaintop, he saw a woman sitting on the ground.
18. The author describes being absolutely horrified by her face
, although he gives no particular description of the face. He also says that while the breezes shake the water of the pond, the woman shudders and cries "Oh misery
" Apparently, although she spends a lot of time on the mountaintop, she hasn't quite gotten used to the bad weather. If the breeze of the wind makes her shudder, I dare not think of how she physically and emotionally responds to thunderstorms, halestorms, and powerful snowfalls that also occur during her stays on the mountain cliff.
19. The author now says that many beliee she hanged her baby on the thorn tree, while yet others think that she drowned in the pond. Despite the disagreements on how and where the baby's murder
took place, all equally agree that the baby is buried under the heap of earth overgrown with moss.
20. Many believe that if you look long enough on the water of the pond on the mountaintop, you will be able to make out a shadow of a baby
, body and face included. Apparently this face part of the shadow
looks into the eyes
of those who are gazing into the pond, either as an initial gesture or in response to a gaze directed towards it. The author also says that he heard that the moss that grows on the heap of earth is imbibed with the dead
baby's spots of blood. This would seem to explain the lovely tints of "scarlet
bright" that the author attributed to the moss in stanza 5. In paragraph 4, the beauty of the red color is also mentioned, however there it shines on the cups flowers
rather than on the moss.
21. The author says that some had wanted to dig up the heap of earth to find evidence of murder and use this to convict Martha. However, they were scared off from doing this because of a superstition
. They have witnessed a supernatural
occurence on the mountain spot. The heap of earth covered with moss seemed to stir as if it were alive. The grass around the hill also stirred if alive; visitors to the spot reported that it "shook upon the ground."
22. The author reiterates from stanza 2 the description of the the thorn tree as being strangled and dragged down by moss growing around it. He repeats his puzzlement
at the whole story and claims not to know if all the speculation
by the others has any truth in it. He says that the only thing that he does know for sure is that during the day and also during the night when the "stars
shone clear and bright", Martha Ray sat up on her mountain spot near the thorn and the earth heap covered with moss and wailed "Oh Misery
. Oh Misery."
Note: gitm suggested that I post the poem as well within the node, so that people who want to read wouldn't have to look for it. I think a better way to allow people who want to read the poem to access it quickly is by giving them some URLs to webpages where the poem is posted.