My thought shall never be that you are dead:
Who laughed so lately in this quiet place.
The dear and deep-eyed humour of that face
Held something ever living, in Death’s stead.
Scornful I hear the flat things they have said
And all their piteous platitudes of pain.
I laugh! I laugh! – For you will come again –
This heart would never beat if you were dead.
The world’s adrowse in twilight hushfulness,
There’s purple lilac in your little room,
And somewhere out beyond the evening gloom
Small boys are culling summer watercress.
Of these familiar things I have no dread
Being so very sure you are not dead.
• Sonnet – a 14 line poem which follows a specific and rigid structure. The Shakespearian sonnet followed the rhyme scheme abbacddceffegg. A sonnet usually expresses love.
What is the poem about?
Unlike “Perhaps-” and “Spring in War-Time”, the speaker of this poem doesn’t know her loved one is dead, but that he is missing. This could be seen as worse as she cannot grieve for him properly. The poem is essentially an assertion that he is not dead, although you do pick up a slight sense that perhaps she is beginning to see this is an empty hope.
• Work out the rhyme scheme – why has the poet chosen this structure? It’s a sonnet and so expresses love for the missing man
• How do the final 2 lines give some sense of conclusion or closure to the poem? – a rhyming couplet that sum up her emotions – it sounds as though that is her final word on the subject – but you have to wonder whether she is not trying to convince herself as well as the reader.
The opening gives a very clear opinion: “My thought shall never be that you are dead” – she is very certain to begin with, and it is a very personal poem (“My”, “you”). The man’s life and vitality are emphasised – he “laughed so lately” (suggesting he has only just died) and it is unbelievable that he could ever die: “something ever living, in Death’s stead”. His absence in the house is very marked: “this quiet place”.
People’s words are uninspiring for her: “flat things”. The alliteration of “piteous platitudes of pain” shows her scorn and rejection of these offered words of comfort, as she is so convinced he is alive.
“I laugh! I laugh!” – repetition shows her determination to reject their words – but could it be a case of trying to convince herself?
Her reason for being so sure is shown through the fact that she is sure “This heart would never beat if you were dead” – there is a strong bond between the two. However, you could say there is a sense of desperation here, as we see how she is clinging onto the hope he is alive as him being dead would kill her.
It is unclear whether this man is her lover or her son, although his “little room” and the fact she mentions “Small boys” she can see out of the window suggests that it is in fact her son who has been “Reported Missing”.
Nature goes on – “purple lilac”, “summer watercress” but she isn’t worried as she is “very sure you are not dead”.
The end-stopped line
• A line which is self-contained (i.e. Begins and ends on the same line) can be called an end-stopped line. It’s the opposite to the enjambment.
• This introduces conflict of some kind.
• Sometimes an end-stopped line can be created by using punctuation other than a full stop – such as a colon, semi-colon, or a dash.
• The first line of this poem can be seen to act like an end-stopped line – what is the conflict introduced? – she is convinced he isn’t dead, she is very certain – but clearly there is the chance (almost certainty) that he is dead. So you get a conflict between these two fates, where she is almost trying to convince herself he is alive despite all the evidence otherwise.