Edward Thomas’s ‘Tall Nettles’ asks readers to see as much beauty in the world as possible, even where one doesn’t expect to find it.
‘Tall Nettles’ by Edward Thomas is a simple poem in which the speaker seeks to convey his appreciation for nettles, and for any unconventional beauty in the natural world. This common sight is an unlikely favorite on his list of most beautiful farmyard sights. He ranks it above, or at the same level as, any flowers he might see blooming. The poem is meant to inspire readers to see the beauty in everything, not just that which is considered traditionally beautiful.
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Summary of Tall Nettles
The speaker spends the two stanzas of ‘Tall Nettles’ describing what they look like. He speaks on how they’ve grown over and obscured various pieces of farm equipment but also how lovely he thinks they are. It’s a beautiful sight, he implies, to look at the dust on nettles and see how they’ve grown over the plough. It’s the part of the farm he likes the most, in fact. He compares this to flowers, suggesting that the nettles are just as beautiful.
Themes in Tall Nettles
In ‘Tall Nettles,’ the poet engages with themes of nature and beauty. He spends the short lines of this poem exploring the features of the tall nettles and how striking they are to him. He knows they aren’t traditionally considered beautiful, but he doesn’t care. He loves how they cover the farm equipment and even considers that part of the land his favorite. The poem asks readers to reconsider what they consider beautiful and hopefully expand it to include more of the natural world.
Structure and Form of Tall Nettles
‘Tall Nettles’ by Edward Thomas is a two-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD. The lines are all almost ten syllables in length, although there are a couple of moments in which they stretch to eleven instead. The stresses change throughout the poem, but readers will be able to stop examples of iambs and trochees.
Literary Devices in Tall Nettles
Thomas makes use of several literary devices in ‘Tall Nettles.’ These include but are not limited to caesura, alliteration, and enjambment. The first of these, caesura, is a common technique used by poets to create a pause in the middle of a line. For example, line two of the first stanza reads: “These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough.” Another good example is line three of the second stanza: “I like the dust on the nettles, never lost.”
Alliteration is a type of repetition that occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sound. For example, “rusty” and “roller” in lines two and three of the first stanza, as well as “nettles now” in line four of that same stanza.
Enjambment occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines three and four of the second stanza.
Analysis of Tall Nettles
Tall nettles cover up, as they have done
These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough
Long worn out, and the roller made of stone:
Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.
In the first stanza of ‘Tall Nettles,’ the speaker begins by describing “Tall nettles.” A nettle is a common type of grass, in this case, that’s grown taller than average. But, like every year, it covers up the “rust harrow,” “the plough,” and the “roller made of stone.” These farm implements are outside, sitting in the fields are perhaps near a barn or other structure. The nettles have overgrown them, covering them perhaps so much so that the speaker only knows what they are because he saw them before. It’s clear from the start that the speaker is not frustrated by this fact. He’s simply stating a fact. This is how things are, he is saying.
In the last line of this stanza, he adds that only the “elm butt tops the nettles now.” The elm is the only thing taller, sticking out among the nettles. This helps readers imagine how tall the nettles have truly grown.
This corner of the farmyard I like most:
As well as any bloom upon a flower
I like the dust on the nettles, never lost
Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.
In the second stanza of ‘Tall Nettles,’ the speaker declares that he likes this corner of the farmyard. He isn’t turned off by these overgrown plants at all. He thinks it’s just as beautiful as “any bloom upon a flower.” The dust on the nettles is a beautiful sight. It exists, except when the “sweetness of a shower” comes and washes it away. It’s usually there as a marker, though, noting the passage of time just like the height of the nettles themselves.
In these lines, Thomas is trying to express the fact that just because something is traditionally beautiful like a flower doesn’t mean that it isn’t beautiful at all. There are more things than flowers worth appreciating in the world.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Tall Nettles’ should also consider reading some of Edward Thomas’s other best-known poems. For example:
- ‘The Chalk Pit’ – is a strange poem in which the speaker describes an abandoned chalk-pit and all the things he thinks occurred there. It contains something the fullness of life, he suggests.
- ‘The Sign-Post’ – discusses nature and Heaven through the image of a sign on the top of a hill. A second narrator brings this poem to a discussion of life and death.
- ‘Beauty’ – speaks on the definition of beauty and how the speaker encounters it in his life. Beauty plays an important role in the balance of his life.