Learn English » English Literature » Poem 'The Diamond Cutter' by Elizabeth Jennings

The Diamond Cutter

Not what the light will do but how he shapes it
What particular colours it will bear.

And something of the climber's concentration
Seeing the white peak, setting the right foot there.

Not how the sun was plausible at morning
Not how it was distributed at noon,

And not how much the single stone could show
But rather how much brilliance it would shun;

Simply a paring down, a cleaving to
One object, as the star-gazer who sees

One single comet polished by its fall
Rather than countless, untouched galaxies.

-- Elizabeth Jennings


The theme of the poem is the need to appreciate individual creations of God rather than seeking to understand the entire universe.


The title ‘The Diamond Cutter’ could be a reference to the creator or God.

In the first two lines, the poet cautions us to not get carried away by “what the light will do” but to concentrate on how a single diamond is shaped and what colours it can reflect. We need not be bothered about universal questions; rather, we should just concentrate on appreciating and understanding small, individual creations.

This, the poet says, is akin to the focus that a climber should have: he/she should focus on the “white peak” he should reach, and hence should worry about placing the next foot right. He/she should not worry about the sun or the moon.

In the next two lines, the poet goes deeper, and says that in the case of a diamond, we have to understand not just its possibilities, but its limitations as well (“not how much the single stone could show” but “how much brilliance it would shun”).

This is a “paring down” or “cleaving” to one single object, just like the astronomer who would study the trajectory of one single comet rather than the entire universe of “countless, untouched galaxies”.

Language and imagery

The poem is made up of six couplets, with the second line endings rhyming with each other. There are two major metaphors in the poem: one is about a climber who has to focus on his goal and on how and where to place his next foot, rather than thinking about the sun and the moon and such universal matters.

The second metaphor is that of an astronomer who would study just one comet rather than about the whole universe.

Both the images are apt and conveys effectively the central theme of the poem, which is a call to understand the small things so that we can comprehend the bigger, more complicated creations of God. The poem is remarkable since it captures a profound idea in six simple couplets.

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