‘The Ivy Green’ by Charles Dickens is a three-stanza poem consisting of sets of ten lines. Each of these stanzas follows a consistent rhyme scheme of, ababcdcdee, changing relative to the poet’s chosen endings.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the worlds that ivy enjoys the most. It thrives in places left in disrepair and mankind no longer has any interest in it. It twines itself around “crumbled” and decaying walls, and makes meals from the “dust that years have made.”
He continues to intricately personify how ivy moves and consumes what’s in its path. It slithers and slides like a snake while ruthlessly taking everything that it wants.
In the final stanza, the speaker explains how after humankind passes away, and all the works of the world abandoned, ivy will still be there. It will never fade or die off as there is always something for it to consume.
Analysis of The Ivy Green
Oh, a dainty plant is the Ivy green,
That creepeth o’er ruins old!
Of right choice food are his meals, I ween,
In his cell so lone and cold.
The wall must be crumbled, the stone decayed,
To pleasure his dainty whim:
And the mouldering dust that years have made
Is a merry meal for him.
Creeping where no life is seen,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.
The speaker of this piece begins by introducing the subject of the poem, the “dainty plant,” green ivy. This idea that such a strong and resilient plant as ivy is also “dainty” will be repeated in this first stanza. It is one of the many characteristics that the speaker finds so endearing about the plant.
He begins by describing how ivy, though just a plant, can creep over “ruins old.” From just these few words the speaker can cast an image into the reader’s mind of vine-covered walls and tumbling buildings that are being reclaimed by the earth.
The speaker is not put off by this feature of the plant, in fact, he hardily approves. In the next line, the narrator describes how the ivy’s “choice food” is the correct one. He, “ween[s]” or believes, that the ivy could not have chosen wiser. Besides, he tempers this approval with a statement of sympathy. Thereafter, he imagines the world in which the ivy is living, amongst the ruins, as being “lone and cold.” He continues to state that this must be so, as the walls are “crumbled” and the “stone decayed.”
The decay does not put the ivy off but spurns it on. The plant thrives in this environment and makes a home for itself amongst the “mouldering dust that years have made.” All of the lefts overs of the human world are “merry meal[s] for him. In the final lines of this stanza, the speaker reiterates what he just described, once more stating his approval for the ivy and its way of life.
Fast he stealeth on, though he wears no wings,
And a staunch old heart has he.
How closely he twineth, how tight he clings,
To his friend the huge Oak Tree!
And slily he traileth along the ground,
And his leaves he gently waves,
As he joyously hugs and crawleth round
The rich mould of dead men’s graves.
Creeping where grim death has been,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.
The second stanza moves to discuss the way that ivy moves through these “moulding” environments. It does not grow as a normal plant does, but quickly creeps. The plant is old and does not “wear…wings” but is still able to move fast. The plant clings tightly to the buildings it overtakes and twines itself around every inch of every surface. Due to its proximity to the “huge Oak Tree,” it has become “friend[s]” with the larger plant. This is all of course assumption on the speaker’s part, as are all the personified terms attributed to the plant.
The story of ivy becomes darker as the second stanza progresses. The plant moves from just intertwining around abandoned buildings and trees, to graves. The poet presents a contrast between the speaker’s description of the way that the ivy moves and the dreary scene of a graveyard. It crawls “joyously” and “hug” the graves of dead men. It seems like this is the place where the plant thrives the most, or at the very least, contributes to the image of the ivy as doing best in the darkest places where people no longer go.
The plant is “rare” in its way of life, and the narrator seems to envy it for this fact.
Whole ages have fled and their works decayed,
And nations have scattered been;
But the stout old Ivy shall never fade,
From its hale and hearty green.
The brave old plant, in its lonely days,
Shall fatten upon the past:
For the stateliest building man can raise,
Is the Ivy’s food at last.
Creeping on, where time has been,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.
In the final stanza of the poem the speaker describes the progression of time and resilience of “ivy green.” Since the beginning of time, and the start of the ruin of man’s works, ivy has been there. Whenever and wherever something has fallen, and people have “fled” leaving their works to “decay,” ivy has remained stout. It will, the speaker states, “never fade.” It has a strength, from its “hale and hearty green,” that human beings can only imagine and perhaps envy.
While ivy thrives best in places where man has gone and left, it does not dislike the man. Humankind provides it with the worlds that it needs. Man will be there to raise the “stateliest buildings” and ivy will follow close behind to feast on what is abandoned.
About Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens was born in February of 1812 in Portsmouth, England. He was one of eight children and was raised by his father, who was a naval clerk, and his mother, who had her own passions for learning and teaching. He grew up in a hardworking family but they were never more than poor. This did not keep Dickens from youthful happiness as he and his siblings moved throughout England.
Dickens’ father, due to the dangerous number of debts he had accrued, was sent to debtors’ prison in 1824. After this, at 12 years old, Charles left school and began to work at a dilapidated factory in an attempt to help the family. This was the end of his childhood. Dickens was never able to finish school, but a job as an office boy in 1827 sent him on a path towards writing. Only six years later Dickens began writing his Pickwick Papers while editing and reporting for different magazines.
In the late 1830s, Dickens published his first novel, Oliver Twist, in installments in a magazine he edited. It was well-received by audiences in both America and England. Throughout the 1840s Dickens published several other works, including A Christmas Carol, and David Copperfield.
He eventually married Catherine Hogarth with whom he would have ten children. By the early 1840s, Dickens had solidified himself as an advocate for the poor and he gave lectures throughout the United States explaining and promoting his beliefs.
The following decade proved to be his most fruitful. He published the novel Bleak House in 1853 after the death of his father, and the separation from his wife. The dark nature of the novel reflected his emotional well-being. The novels Hard Times and A Tale of Two Cities got published after Bleak House.
Widely considered to be his greatest work, Dickens released Great Expectations, also in serial form, from 1860-1861.
Dickens died in 1870, at the age of 58, from a stroke. He was buried in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey.