Elizabeth Jennings, through her simple diction and sensitive approach, has dealt with many different human emotions and thought in a very subtle way. In the poem ‘Chinese Art’, too, the poet is talking through her own personal experience, of how our opinions and viewpoints get influenced by someone who is dear to us.
The poet also finds herself in the same stanza, but when she came to know the reality her outlook towards looking at an artist’s art too gets changed. Here the poet wants to tell us that we must not develop our opinion on the basis of other views or being influenced by others. If we do so we lose our own quality of judging people and things just as the poet did on being influenced by the critic in the poem. Referring the Chinese art, the poet says that there was a time when “I saw your point because I loved you then.” All sorts of Chinese arts and paintings “Seemed cold to me;”, but today my outlook towards these arts has completely changed. The poet says: “They did not care for style at all, or fashion. It was eternity they tried to paint, And timelessness, they thought, must lack all passion.” Thus, the poet now finds herself unfettered from the influence of her critic.
Jennings uses a strong sense of rhetoric in this particular piece. She addresses the reader directly which gives the poem a sense of intimacy. It also has the effect of making the piece very striking. Although the poem is not laden with imagery Jennings does draw on metaphors a couple of times in the poem. For instance in the final stanza when she uses “those willows show”. The poem also has a consistent rhythm. It is written in Iambic Pentameter there is a certain amount of irony in Jennings choosing that rhythm for this poem as Iambic pentameter is said to best replicate the cadence of the British language when this poem is about Asian art.
Analysis of Chinese Art
You said you did not care for Chinese art
Phrase spoke like nothing but unpassionate words.
The very first line of the first stanza of this poem starts with the second person ‘you’, which suggests that the poet is directly talking to someone known to her. In this extract, the poet, accusing the critic, says that you were of the opinion that you were not in favor of Chinese art because looking at them you could see that they did not carry any history and you had a very dispassionate and hollow opinion about these historical artifacts.
The poet says that at that time I was so much influenced by your opinion that all these beautiful willows with birds and horses painted, appeared really hollow and meaningless to me. The poet looked at them very dispassionately and never understood the deeper meaning it carried. This kind of attitude is mostly seen in all of us when even though we might have a different philosophy of life, our views and opinions are deeply influenced by someone near and dear to us.
I understand now what those artists meant;
Within these wise old artists’ skillfulness.
In the above two extracts, the poet says that now she is out of the critic’s influence, her opinion is no longer influenced by his views. The poet is now looking at these artists’ work with a more observant attitude. And now the poet is in a position to fully appreciate the depth of the art and the poet now saw that the Chinese art was only being criticized on its surface value while the fact was that the Chinese artists were not keen on creating a piece of beauty or gaudiness but in fact, they were more interested in creating a timeless piece of art. The poet further adds with some regret that although her views are no longer influenced yet she hasn’t developed that deeper insight and has failed to appreciate the art in its true perspective.
Now if we go deeper into the poem, we find that there is an underlying message here and we can see the philosophy of life discussed here. We all are born and sent into this world in the same fashion but most of us take life at its face value, lead our lives and die, while there are only a few of us who understand the true essence of life and lead their lives accordingly. These are the people who are successful. It may be because these people do such deeds that they are remembered with reverence.
It would be easy now to close again
And birds escape fast as the brush-strokes go.
Here in the last stanza of the poem, the poet says that after going through all the suffering and pain the poet has finally developed that sensibility where she can fully appreciate the ‘Art’ without being influenced by anyone. And now she could appreciate the artist’s skill who has expressed so much in a simple piece of art.
Here again, we see the same philosophy of life being repeated that our quality of life depends only upon our grasping the true meaning of life. So, no matter how long you lived on this earth what matters is what good deeds you did during your life whether it was short or long. That way living a quality life matters when it comes to living in full swing.
About Elizabeth Jennings
Born in Boston, Lincolnshire, Elizabeth Jennings died in 2001. The poet, having finished her graduation from Oxford University, initially worked as an Assistant Librarian at Oxford City Library and then as a reader for the London Publisher Chatto & Windus and finally, she became a full-time writer for the rest of her life.
She began her poetry writing career at the very early stage after having being encouraged by one of her schoolteachers as well as by an uncle, who himself was a poet. She wrote her earlier poetries on being inspired by Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, G. K. Chesterton’s “Battle of Lepanto”, and then the odes of Keats.
Afterward, Jennings was greatly influenced by the poetries of Edwin Muir and Robert Frost. In most of Jennings’s poems, there have been strong logic, emotional sensitivity, an avoidance of decoration, an absence of vagueness and an eschewing of any mystification.
She had always taken care of the use of rhyme and meter when it comes to the form of poetry. Her use of words and sentence structure in the poem are very easy to understand. All her poems were simple and without literary decoration and pretentiousness in literature.