Learn English » English Literature » Poem 'Reminiscence' by Elizabeth Jennings
When I was happy alone, too young for love
Or to be loved in any but a way
Cloudless and gentle, I would find the day
Long as I wished its length or web to weave.
I did not know or could not know enough
To fret at thought or even try to whittle
A pattern from the shapeless stony stuff
That now confuses since I’ve grown too subtle.
I used the senses, did not seek to find
Something they could not touch, made numb with fear;
I felt the glittering landscape in the mind
And O was happy not to have it clear.
As the title indicates, the poem describes the memories of the poet of her childhood. She was alone in childhood, was “too young for love’ but was happy. She was also too young “to be loved in any but a way/Cloudless and gentle”. In other words, in her childhood, the poet the love that is experienced is not complicated, and not violently emotional. It is ‘gentle’. In childhood, with such unsophisticated happiness, the poet spent her days in any way she wished, like weaving a web.
In the second stanza, the poet says that in her childhood she was not troubled by sophisticated thoughts or knowledge. (“did not know or could not know enough”). At that time, she did not worry or “fret at thought” and did not have to make sense of everything (“whittle a pattern”). The adult world presents her with “stony stuff” to make sense of, and she herself has grown too “subtle” for her own self.
In the third stanza, the poet continues to talk about her childhood, in which she had to use only her senses to understand the world, and did not bother to try to understand what her senses could not sense. Since she did not try to understand the unknown, she was never made “numb with fear” in childhood. The “glittering landscape” of life was felt in childhood, but it was not “clear”. With adulthood comes clarity about life, and such clarity is not desirable, according to the poet.
The poem is written in three quatrains with the rhyming pattern abba cdcd efef. The lines are almost all of the same length. The simple structure is suitable to the theme of the poem, which is the lack of complexity in childhood.
The language of the poem is simple, but the imagery used for childhood sharply contrasts that used for adulthood. “Love” in a child’s world is “cloudless and gentle”, and the day is like a “web”, - a soft and delicate object. However, such gentle, soft imagery is contrasted with “shapeless stony stuff”, of the adult world.
There is also opposing emotive words used: in childhood, there is love, but adulthood one would “fret with thought”, when one became too “subtle” and “numb with fear”. The words used to describe childhood are “happy”, “love”, “cloudless”, and “gentle”, but for adulthood, the words used are “fret”, “whittle”, “confuses”, “stony” and “numb”. Thus, the language used in the poem aids in the meaning, which is a contrast between the guileless, uncomplicated childhood, and a more complicated and sophisticated adulthood.
There are three separate pieces of imagery (metaphors) in the poem. The first is “web to weave” used as a metaphor for a child’s fantasies. The second is “shapeless stony stuff”, which stands for the difficulties faced by a person as an adult. The third is “glittering landscape”, which is an image of life itself, with its myriad meanings and facets.
The tone of the poem is nostalgic and lyrical. There is a subtle shift between the caressing tone used for childhood and the harsher tone used for adulthood.