A Silent Wood by Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal

A Silent Wood is a dark and powerful poem written by the model, artist, and writer Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal. The piece is four stanzas long, the first three of which are consistent in rhyme scheme, and line length. The rhyme scheme of these first three stanzas is AABB CCDD EEFF. The stanzas are each four lines long and each line is similar in length to the others. The fourth stanza is only two lines, but is the most important and revealing of the entire piece. The ending of these two lines also rhyme, giving this poem a solid and impactful conclusion.


Summary of A Silent Wood

Siddal begins this piece by addressing the woods in which she is contemplating entering. It is clear from the beginning that this speaker is deep within a depressive state, she speaks clearly on the misery that is within her heart and the fact that it is only intensified by the woods themselves. The plants and creatures she will encounter there do nothing to soothe her, but instead bring back powerful memories of her experiences in the past.

The second stanza elaborates on these emotions and the speaker asks of the wood that she be allowed to sit within its darkest corner. Not only does she wish to inflict further emotional distress on herself by entering the woods, she wants to find the darkest part. In addition to this request she asks that she can find the strength to not “swoon” when she is there.

The third stanza is made up of the speaker’s description of how she will act when she is there. She will be as a stone, cold and unmoving, but she will not be alone. The final two lines of the piece are a question asked by the speaker, hoping that God can somehow bring back the time in which she and her lover walked in the wood together. This is the first time which the poem the the source of her depression is made clear.


Analysis of A Silent Wood

First Stanza

O silent wood, I enter thee

With a heart so full of misery

For all the voices from the trees

And the ferns that cling about my knees.

Siddal begins this poem with a plea directed at the “silent wood.” She is asking of the wood, as she enters, that she be allowed to sit and contemplate what has been in the past.

Siddal’s speaker describes to the listener, who is in this case the wood itself, the breadth of her misery. She speaks of her heart being “so full of misery.” While normally one might escape to the forest to be rid of one’s cares for at least a short time, in this case her misery only seems to intensify as she enters. It appears that the forest is the partial cause of her depressed state of mind. This is made clear in the second two lines of this stanza as the speaker says that her heart is miserable “For the voices from the trees / And the ferns that cling about [her] knees.”

As she enters and these familiar sights, sounds and feelings bombard her, her misery is intensified.


Second Stanza

O silent wood, I enter thee

With a heart so full of misery

For all the voices from the trees

And the ferns that cling about my knees.

Even though her unhappiness is increased, she forges on. She address the wood once more, asking permission to sit in “thy darkest shadow.” Not only does she want to embrace her misery in the woods, she wants to experience the darkest part of it. Continuing on, when she gets to this location and around her begin to fly “grey owls” she will ask the forest for “a boon,” or a favor of some kind. She will ask that she does not “faint or die or swoon.” She knows that when she gets to the darkest part of the forest and sees these familiar sights that she will feel faint, and is asking the wood to keep this from happening. She needs the strength to continue on.


Third Stanza

Gazing through the gloom like one

Whose life and hopes are also done,

Frozen like a thing of stone

I sit in thy shadow – but not alone.

The third stanza of this piece begins to reveal what this poem is really about. The speaker is predicting what she will do once she reaches this spot in the forest. She will, gaze “through the gloom” like someone who’s hopes and life “are also done.” She knows how she will act when she gets there and in her depressed state of mind she will believe that the best parts of her life are over. She will contemplate all that is lost.

She continues to describe herself and says that she will be “frozen like a thing of stone.” She sees herself as inactive, cold, stuck in one spot like a statue. The speaker will sit in the shadows of the forest but, surprise, she says, she will not be alone.


Fourth Stanza

Can God bring back the day when we two stood

Beneath the clinging trees in that dark wood?

This final two line stanza make clear what this piece was about and what exactly this narrator is looking for in the woods. The final lines are a question, perhaps directed at the forest itself, the reader, or her lost lover, the one for whom she pines within the woods. She asks if it is possible for God to bring back to her the days in which “we two stood / Beneath…that dark wood?”

It is now clear that she has gone to the woods in the hope of reliving the happiest, most hopeful, time in her life. She is now miserable, without reason to hope or live, and is seeking some of that back. This action is reminiscent of the act of looking through old photographs or dining at a past favorite cafe. She knows she will be unhappy but cannot stay away from what used to be a favorite place.


About Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal was born in July of 1829 in Hatton Garden, England, and is best known as a model for the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The most famous of the works that she is featured in is Ophelia by John Everett Millais. She developed a love for poetry at a young age after she was taught to read and write by her parents. Siddal was regularly employed as a model and was the favorite of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the most well known of the Pre-Raphealite painters. They would eventually get engaged to Rossetti and was frequently featured in both his writings and paintings; they were married in 1860.

The body of writing and art that Siddal herself produced was small and she did not receive any significant recognition until after her death in 1862 from an overdose of laudanum.

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