Black Rook

Black Rook In Rainy Weather - Sylvia Plath #

This can be read as a response to Ted Hughes The Hawk in the Rain, in what may be reciprocal contests. It appears to be her first impressions of the English countryside. The poem has many other antecedents like Edgar Alan Poe’s The Raven, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Eagle, or less likely Gerard Manly Hopkins’ The Windhover.

Sylvia Plath writes evocatively about landscapes and nature. Compared to Hughes, hers is more of a quest rather than an affirmation or a declamatory assertion of nature. While hers is a search for communion and meaning, Hughes appears to be claim of having found it. Plath looks for soothing confirmation, while Hughes sees the savage, brutal ruthless aspects of survival. Plath is looking for creative inspiration, expecting little, so content when she finds it. Hughes demands it as his entitlement.

Plath uses natural imagery, not in the benevolent Romantic tradition, rather recognising its sinister possibilities. The Rook is personified perhaps as a contrast or comparison to the persona.

Black Rook In Rainy Weather #

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain-
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident
To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall
Without ceremony, or portent.
Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent
Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then —
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent
By bestowing largesse, honor
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); sceptical
Yet politic, ignorant
Of whatever angel any choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant
A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content
Of sorts. Miracles occur.
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance
Miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.

Language of Black Rook in Rainy Weather #

The lack of an article suggests any or all Rooks. Like Poe’s The Raven, the atmosphere is languid, dull and dreary until stirred by a bird - a stimulus from above.

The language is formal rather than relaxed and conversational. Words like “desultory, portent, largesse, incandescent, inconsequence, obtuse and celestial” demand some effort. Is she searching for inspiration?

Like Poe’s The Raven or Hughes The Thought Fox, this could be a meta poem, one that writes itself. The repetition of Miracle suggests success.

References to light - “fire, minor light, incandescent, celestial burning, flare, shine, and radiance”, could indicate a break through.

Ordering its black feathers can so shine

As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant
A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality.

There seems to be a positive tone or attitude of the poet that nature will provide her the inspiration and resilience to produce creative energy, by seizing her senses and forcing her eyes to observe and give hope.

Plath versus Ted Hughes #

he paints the
most beautiful pictures
with his words

she scraps words
out of a piteous painting she
is trapped

he props himself up
with his words of finesse

she tries to mend a
broken world with all the words
she could muster

tearing up a painting
into bits and pieces of her gems

john tiong chunghoo