The Seed-Merchant has lost his son,
His dear, his loved, his only one.
So young he was, Even now it seems
He was a child with a child’s dreams.
He would race over the meadow-bed
With his bright, bright eyes and his cheeks all red.
Fair and healthy and long of limb;
It made one young just to look at him.
His school books, unto the cupboard thrust,
Have scarcely had time to gather dust.
Died in the war….And it seems his eyes
Must have looked at death with a child’s surprise.
The Seed-Merchant goes on his way:
I saw him out on his land today;
Old to have fathered so young a son,
And now the last glint of his youth is gone.
What could one say to him in his need?
Little there seemed to say indeed.
So still he was that the birds flew round
The grey of his head without a sound,
Careless and tranquil in the air,
As if naught human were standing there.
On, never a soul could understand
Why he looked at the earth, and the seed in his hand,
As he had never before seen seed or sod:
I heard him murmur: ‘Thank God, thank God!’
What is the poem about?
The poem is about the death of (surprisingly!) the seed-merchant’s son (someone who sells seeds). At the end, there is a sense of puzzlement as the seed-merchant has found some comfort in nature. Like “Spring in War-Time” and “Perhaps-”, nature continues on.
· Rhyming couplets of 8 beat lines – very simplistic, like a nursery rhyme, reflecting what we are told about the seed-merchant’s son.
· The ellipsis (...) in line 11 and after line 22 gives us a chance to digest what we are being told.
The choice of the seed-merchant hints at the theme of life continuing – seeds are obviously a symbol of new life.
“His dear, his loved, his only one” – the pronoun (his) and the pattern of 3 highlights the strong bond between the two.
The son is shown to be very young, naive and innocent (linked to the nursery rhyme structure) – “So young”, “a child with child’s dreams”, “race”, “bright, bright eyes”, “cheeks all red” – he sounds very alive and healthy: “Fair and healthy and long of limb”. Youth again: “His school books.../Have scarcely had time to gather dust.”
“Died in the war...” a pause to emphasise how despite his youth and health, his life is now over. The surprise of such a death is shown: “looked at death with a child’s surprise”.
Life goes on: “The Seed-Merchant goes on his way”.
In contrast to his son’s youth, the man is “Old” and “grey” and won’t get a second chance at life and to have another son – indeed, it is implied that his son kept him young and now “the last glint of his youth is gone”.
The question in line 17 is engaging, asking what you might say, but also highlighting that whatever you say to someone who has lost a child will never seem enough. He is frozen by grief (“So still he was that the birds flew round”) – but nature goes on regardless.
The poem ends on a positive note – nature is continuing, life is renewing (symbolised by “the seed in his hand”) and the man has seen some hope: “’Thank God, thank God!’”