English Literature » Poem 'In Praise of Creation' by Elizabeth Jennings
In Praise of Creation
That one bird, one star,
The one flash of the tiger’s eye
Purely assert what they are,
Without ceremony testify.
Testify to order, to rule–
How the birds mate at one time only,
How the sky is, for a certain time, full
Of birds, the moon sometimes cut thinly.
And the tiger trapped in the cage of his skin,
Watchful over creation, rests
For the blood to pound, the drums to begin,
Till the tigress’s shadow casts
A darkness over him, a passion, a scent,
The world goes turning, turning, the season
Sieves earth to its one sure element
And the blood beats beyond reason.
Then quiet, and birds folding their wings,
The new moon waiting for years to be stared at here,
The season sinks to satisfied things –
Man with his mind ajar.
In praise of creation is, as the title indicates, a poem that sings praises of living beings, human and animal alike. The speaker is in awe of the magnificence of life around her.
The poem begins with an expression of the poet’s admiration for the “one bird”, the “one star” and the “one flash of the tiger’s eye”. These singular small entities are enough for the poet to marvel at the magnificence of creation. This is enough to “assert” that they are eloquent creations; there is no need for any ceremony or evidence to testify for their magnificence as creations.
In the second stanza, the poet continues to expand on the theme of the magnificence of nature. She says that these creations testify to the “order” and “rule” that is there in nature. When mating is instinctual to birds, why do they mate only in certain seasons? Why should the sky be full of birds in certain seasons? And how does the moon appear to be “cut thinly” at certain times? All this, according to the poet, testifies to the order that is there in nature.
In this stanza, the poet registers her amazement at the tiger “that is trapped in the cage of his skin”. The poet sees the tiger’s stripes as a cage, something that holds the animal in but also warns others that it is a dangerous animal. The tiger waits “for the blood to pound” and “the drums to begin”. The language here indicates the expectation of something to happen, and what it is, is hinted by the mention of the tigress.
As the shadow of the tigress falls over the tiger, and there would be “a passion” and “a scent”. The poet is referring the mating of the tiger and the tigress. The event is so magnificent that the world goes “turning, turning”. The poet continues to say that this mating is “one sure element” during which “the blood beats beyond reason”. Mating is instinctual, and intelligence or reason does not govern it.
In the final stanza, the poet mentions the “quiet” that comes after the mating, much like the calm after a storm. It is like the birds folding their wings after a long flight. However, the order and rule of nature is such that after the tumultuous mating, “the new moon” is still there unchanging, “waiting for years to be stared at here”. After the mating, “the season sinks to satisfied things” which could refer to the satiated feeling that comes after mating. In the last line, the poet refers to “Man with his mind ajar”. This could be a reference to mating as applied to human beings. As opposed to animals for which after the mating there is complete quiet, in the case of human beings, there is the possibility of thinking and wondering about life.
Language and imagery
The poem has five stanzas of four lines each, and has the rhyme scheme ABAB. The regular rhyme scheme reflects the theme of the poem, which is the order in nature. The final line, “Man with his mind ajar” is the only point of departure from the general theme of the poem, which is the order in the animal world. Man, according to the poet, is not the same as the rest of nature. Instinctual mating is only part of his nature, and he has a mind capable of thought.
The language of the poem is in keeping with the theme. The metaphorical use of the tiger’s skin as its cage is a brilliant tool, in alluding to the dangerous nature of the animal. The word “sieves” is in keeping with the theme of order and plan: it is as though some one does the action of sieving, someone who is responsible for the order in nature.