“Fern Hill”: Literary Analysis

Time is a weary thing, but it is also a beautiful thing. It also slow, yet fast and moments and experiences sometimes are severely lacking in appreciation because of an inattentive and inpatient eye. All of the aforementioned are the hallmarks of youth, children and adolescents alike lean more to living in the present, not appreciating life as a whole. When this fact comes to light, it is often too late and all there is left to do is to reminisce and regret, miss and yearn for the days of yore. Unfortunately, this is what middle and old age frequently is. These topics are explored greatly in “Fern Hill”, it is filled with metaphors and biblical allusions, and the poem itself bears a striking resemblance to life itself.

In the first stanza, the setting of Fern Hill is established and since it is the beginning of the poem; it mirrors the beginning of life: youth. “Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs / About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green / The night above the dingle starry,” Here, the tone is a rather happy and carefree tone, not unlike the majority of the poem. Alliteration is used rather well here, it gives the poem a rhythm and a sense of movement, and this echoes the progression of life. The house is personified as if it is singing, giving the speakers’ youth a merry feeling, he/she is happy and like the grass, he/she is still young and full of life. It is only the beginning. The word order is a bit odd for the third line, normally, it would be “The starry night above the dingle,” but here, the words are switched. This is used to give more rhythm to the line, it further contributes to the building motion of the poem.

The next few lines continue to be joyful and happy, it personifies time as a being, God perhaps. “Time let me hail and climb / Golden in the heydays of his eyes, / And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple town” In the first line, it’s as though Time is letting the young one be young and enjoy its youth, not out of obligation or what not, but out of kindness and compassion. Time understands that ‘time’ is limited and that youthfulness doesn’t last forever. This is further supported by the third line in which it is personified and is referred to as a ‘he’. Another possible reference to God, as God is kind and merciful; Time is here as well. Not only that, but Time seems to be also watching the young one, letting him be free and young. The youth is so great, that the speaker even refers to himself as a prince. It doesn’t come off as callousness or as pride, just a genuine belief that he was mighty and powerful in the heydays of his youth.

The youth is so great, that the speaker even refers to himself as a prince. It doesn’t come off as callousness or as pride, just a genuine belief that he was mighty and powerful in the heydays of his youth. ” And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves / Trail with daises and barley / Down the rivers of the windfall light” The word ‘and’ gets repeated twice in the span of two lines, repetition is a key theme of “Fern Hill” and it is not only in its content. Time is like a sequence, and “and” achieves this similar effect as it piles one line with the other. Assonance is present with the words “trees”, “leaves”, “daises”, and “barley”. It has a rather nice sound, and when said aloud; has a distinctive flow. Not unlike the flow of time itself perhaps.

The second stanza is overall, structurally similar to the first. As with the first stanza, there nine lines in the second stanza, this is not exclusive to the first two stanza. The whole poem is composed of six stanzas each containing nine lines. These numbers are not just arbitrarily in the poem for the sake of being in the poem, it is yet another biblical allusion. This specifically being; the Book of Genesis from the Bible. The world was created by God in six days, the seventh used for rest. This is not the only allusion to Genesis as there is another one further in the poem, the Farm could be like the Garden of Eden to the Speaker. Not only is it similar in structure, but in its content as well. “And I was green and carefree, famous among the barns / About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home, / In the sun that is young once only,” Just as the grass was green before, the speaker is also green, he is young. Assonance is present once again, being carefree, as aforementioned is one the many hallmarks of youth. The speaker could not give a care in the world, for he is young. However, he knows that youth only comes once, and that it doesn’t last forever, this foreshadows the later parts of the poem. But, for now, just as the poem remains happy, he too is happy on the farm.

Once more, time is personified and is being portrayed as kind and merciful. This reinforces the allusion to God, God is watching the young one and letting him be. ” Time let me play and be / Golden in the mercy of his means, / And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves” The words “green” and “golden” keep getting repeated again and again, and alliteration keeps getting used again and again, the speaker is young and prosperous, this is being reinforced so much because once youth is gone, it is gone for good. The speakers’is remaining in the past for this long because that’s how good his youth is. He is only this prosperous because of Time or God, he knows he is at the mercy of him, Time is benevolent, but regardless; he is still at Time’s very whim, just as every human is.

The allusion to the Bible is no longer as subtle as before, not that it was that subtle to begin with, but now it is ever more blatant. “Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold, / And the Sabbath rang slowly / In the pebbles of the holy streams.” The speaker was in power because of his youth perhaps, seeing as though the foxes’ barked at the sound of his horn singing. An alliteration is used again to portray the foxes’ clear bark without much emotion. This is signaling the end of youth, it is slow, but the end is near. The Sabbath is day of rest, just as God was resting on the seventh day of creation, so too will the speaker, but instead of creation; he will be resting in old age. The streams near the farm seem to be sacred, again, with the Biblical allusion.

The third stanza marks a shift in tone, in content and in structure. It is significantly different than the first two stanzas; like the parallel between youthfulness and old age. ” All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay / Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air / And playing, lovely and watery” The day keeps on going, however, the descriptions are beginning to be not as specific as the ones from the first stanza, they are also beginning to be dreamlike, lucid almost. Fields as high as the house, music coming from the chimney, all strange descriptions. When they are referred to as air, this comes across as a metaphor for life, fluidity and tranquility; such is youth. The speaker remembers the youth well, quite fondly in fact.

Now comes the transition from day into night, youth into old age. The descriptions become even stranger. “And fire green as grass. / And nightly under the simple stars / As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the night away,” Green fire is unheard of, unnatural, but strangely enough, it is natural; because is starting to drift into sleep, into old age. Instead of the natural process of time passing through sleep, the owls seem to carry the night away instead. All very surreal.

Now comes the climax of the surreal, of the dream. Very unnatural thing, the night is coming to a close, just as the wake is coming. “All the moon long I heard blessed among stables, the nightjars / Flying with the ricks, and the horses / Flashing into the dark.” Instead of all day long in the beginning of the stanza, it is now the opposite, all night long. The stables are blessed, are personified and seem to be alive. The ricks, which are stacks of hay, are flying with nightjars; insects. The night is ending soon, as well as this dream. And the horses just vanish into thin air, becoming part of the night, with this, night draws to a close, and day begins anew; a cycle of some sorts.

Now the Biblical allusions come into full swing and are no longer just allusion but are direct references, the religious overtones are present throughout the poem. “And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white / With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all / Singing, it was Adam and maiden,” Day has come once more, the farm is once again personified, however, this time; the farm may be Jesus. Jesus was known to wear white, white represents holiness, goodness, purity and all things sacred. But Jesus is mostly known to be a wanderer, spreading the word of God. The speaker loves the farm so much, that it is sacred and holy. Here is the good part, Adam and Eve come into the picture, the feeling that the farm is the Garden of Eden is ever so more blatant. Just as Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden following the act of committing the original sin, so too will the speaker be cast out of his farm, his “Garden of Eden”; youth. Albeit, not for any wrongdoing, but because of the natural process.

But wait, there is more! “The sky gathered again / And the sun grew round that very day. /So it must have been after the birth of the simple light / The Genesis references do not end there, in the first line, it says that the sky gathered again. It just so happens that in the Book of Genesis, there is also a similar phrase: “And God said, Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” (Book of Genesis 1) The creation of the Universe is being mirrored by the return of day, old age. The sun grew round once more, just as when God said “let there be light.” Creation, Adam and Eve, and the Book of Genesis are all symbols for the cycle of life in this poem and life itself.

That is not all, now the animals that God created unto Eden are being referenced. ” In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm / Out of the whinnying green stable / On to the fields of praise.” The first spinning place is a reference to Earth, a planet that so happens to spin, it also happens to be the first one. The horses are attracted to, or rather mystified by the farm, and are coming out of the whinnying green stable. The horses are not just horses, but all the animals of God’s creation; out of his own hand. The fields of praise, are obviously a substitute for Eden. However, the fields of praise is also the farm itself, in the beginning of the poem, the farm is the subject of praise, now, and the farm is now praise itself. Such is God’s holy creation.

The end is nigh, literally and figuratively. The first line of this stanza is a callback to one of the lines from the very first stanza. “And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house / Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long, / In the sun born over and over,” Instead of being honoured by wagons and material things part of the physical realm, the speaker is now honoured among animals of the House of God. The house is personified, giving the house joy, such is the House of God. Creation is recent as the clouds are newly made, old age is here, but happiness remains in the heart. With the sun being born over and over again, eternal is too God and his kingdom.

However, not all is well. With old age, comes regret and reminiscing. “I ran my heedless ways, / My wishes raced through the house high hay / nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows” Because of the joys of youth, and the freedom that comes with it, heedlessness is also unfortunately part of youth as well. The speaker is starting to regret living life at such a fast pace and is noting that he is careless. Time only allows so much, and the time has come for the end.

Time/ God is seemingly leading children into his grace through song, again, green and golden are repeated here. “In all his tuneful turning so few and such good morning songs / Before the children green and golden / Follow him out of grace.” The children symbolize the speakers youth, or perhaps humanity’s youth as a whole. It is now time for golden years to draw to a close.

Regret is still present, and is even more powerful than before. Youth is gone and old age is here to stay. “Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me / Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand, / In the moon that is always rising,” The sentiment of regret from before is repeated, the swallows, the loft and the hand shadow represents the speaker’s life, how time is carrying the speaker, but the speaker’s shadow is present and is ever present, looming even. Just as the sun represented youth and how it is short and temporary, the eternal rising of the moon represents old age and how old age will last much longer than youth.

Even though if the speaker is sleeping, which he is not, he will hear his farm being taken way, his very youth being taken away. “Nor that riding to sleep / I should hear him fly with the high fields / And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.” The farm is still here, but it is not the same as before. It is childless, that is, without youth, it is here no longer, forever. The alliteration gives the line a swift and quick motion of this, almost as though a picture is being created. Similar to the old saying regarding youth and old age.

Happy, that is what the poem’s tone is in the beginning. However, there is now dramatic shift in tone, it is now melancholic and regretful. The speaker is no longer swift and free-spirted, he is now chained to sadness and old age. “Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, / Time held me green and dying / Though I sang in my chains like the sea.” The second line reflects life, like a newborn baby, even though it is alive, it also dying at the same time. The clock of death starts ticking the very moment the heart starts beating. Ironic and cruel, but that is life.

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