Learn English » English Literature » Poem 'About These Things' by Elizabeth Jennings


About These Things

About these things I always shall be dumb.
Some wear their silences as more than dress,
As more than skin-deep. I bear mine like some
Scar that is hidden out of shamefulness.
I speak from depths I do not understand
Yet cannot find the words for this distress.

So much of power is put into my hand
When words come easily. I sense the way
People are charmed and pause; I seem to mend
Some hurt. Some healing seems to make them stay.

And yet within the power that I use
My wordless fears remain. Perhaps I say
In lucid verse the terrors that confuse
In conversation. Maybe I am dumb
Because if fears were spoken I would lose
The lovely languages I do not choose
More than the darknesses from which they come.

Analysis

About These Things by Elizabeth Jennings is the poet’s reflections on the act of poetic expression.

Summary

The poet is musing about her inspiration to write poetry. She says that how she writes poetry is unknown to her. It is something about which she shall “always shall be dumb”. These inspirations are silent, they do not come out speaking of who they are. And their silences are “more than dress, / As more than skin-deep”. This is a general reflection on poetry. Then the poet goes on to say that in her own case, the inspiration for poetry is something she hides inside her deep, a “Scar that is hidden out of shamefulness”. In her poetry, she speaks from a depth she herself does not understand, and the process of poetic expression is a “distress” that she cannot express well.

In the next couple of lines, the poet is musing on the kind of power that she has with words. She knows that her poems get people “charmed”. They seem to have a healing effect: she seems to be able to “mend / Some hurt.” However, the poet has “wordless fears” or uncertainties about her writing that she is unable to express.

One of the attractive features of her poetry, the poet feels, could be that she is able to express in “lucid verse” whatever “terrors that confuse / In conversation”. In other words, she is able to express ideas clearly, and give a name to what people experience yet are unable to verbalize.

The poem ends with the thought that if the poet were to verbalize her fears, she would lose the unknown poetic inspirations (“darknesses”) from which her poetry (“lovely languages”) arise.

Language and imagery

The poem has irregular rhyme, much like its theme, poetic inspiration, which does not have a pattern or regularity. There is a notion in the poem that poetry comes from a secretive sadness and the inspiration to write is something that cannot be understood. Words used in the poem such as “dumb”, “hidden”, “shamefulness”, “distress”, “fears” and “darknesses” reinforce the theme of the unknown, secretive and terrifying nature of poetic inspiration. However, the poet realises the therapeutic effect and value of her poems. She knows that her poems seem to “mend” some “hurt”. She is sure that her poems do some “healing”. The metaphors of darkness and fears for poetic inspiration is evident in the poem. Another remarkable aspect of the poem is the paradox between the eloquence of poems and the dumbness of the poet. Jennings points out that her poems are “lucid” expressions but she feels she is “dumb” to express the deep mechanisms that make her write poetry.

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