‘Fountain’ by Elizabeth Jennings details some of the features that make it different from the untamed forces of nature, such as streams and waterfalls. In this poem, the poet directly addresses the reader in order to consider the beauty that is both domesticated and energetic. This piece resonates with the sustained energy of a fountain. In her poem ‘In Retrospect and Hope’ from the 1970 collection of poetry, Lucidities, Jennings points out this poem as her favorite one.
The poem begins with an instruction for the reader. Jennings urges the audience not to be taken away by the sound of a fountain. They should wait and let it be. In the second stanza, the poet-speaker gives instructions about how to approach it amidst a full piazza. The third stanza is all about different aspects of a fountain that Jennings appreciates the most.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
There are a total of three stanzas in ‘Fountain.’ Each stanza does not contain a set number of lines. It varies throughout the poem. The pace of the poem is controlled. The cascading lines of the poem spilling from one to the next aptly resonate with the sustained energy of a fountain. Besides, the poem is written as an instruction manual detailing the ways to appreciate the beauty of a fountain. The overall poem does not have a regular rhyme scheme or meter differing from the convention of the Movement poets.
In ‘Fountain,’ readers can find the use of the following literary devices:
- Enjambment: It is one of the most noticeable literary devices used in the poem. By using this device, Jennings makes readers follow the sustained energy of the poem. For example, enjambment is used in these lines: “Think of it then as elemental, as being/ Necessity,”
- Alliteration: The repetition of an initial consonant sound in neighboring words can be found in “pool predicted,” “far in a forest,” “sea so,” “drawing the water down to the deepest wonder,” etc.
- Imagery: The poem begins with auditory imagery. Jennings evokes the muted sounds of a pool in a faraway forest and a sea in the first stanza. In the third stanza, Jennings makes use of visual imagery in order to describe the visual aspects of a fountain: “Even a moment, an ounce of water back.”
- Personification: This device is used in “Statues are bowing down to the breaking air.” The inanimate statues are invested with the ability to bow.
Let it disturb no more at first
Than the hint of a pool predicted far in a forest,
Or a sea so far away that you have to open
Your window to hear it.
Think of it then as elemental, as being
Not for a cup to be taken to it and not
For lips to linger or eye to receive itself
Back in reflection, simply
As water the patient moon persuades and stirs.
Elizabeth Jennings’ free-verse poem ‘Fountain’ begins in an instructive fashion. The poetic persona orders the readers not to be disturbed by the sound of a fountain at first. Its controlled and soothing sound greatly differs from that of a pool that can be predicted far in the woods or a distant sea. If an individual wants to listen to the sound of a distant sea, they need to open their windows first.
In the following verses, Jennings describes the fountain as “elemental.” It is similar to the primary elements of nature, thus a “Necessity.” It is not a spectacle that has to be praised in isolation. One cannot bring a cup of coffee, sit cozily, and admire a fountain. Nor one can talk to oneself about a fountain or patiently watch the water dancing rhythmically. It is unlike the still water where the moonlight gets reflected. In the last line of this stanza, Jennings personifies the moon.
And then step closer,
Imagine rivers you might indeed embark on,
The full piazza. Come where the noise compels.
Statues are bowing down to the breaking air.
The second stanza begins in continuance of the first stanza. Jennings uses “And” at the very beginning and lays down the steps to be followed. Firstly, an observer has to stay calm and should not be carried away by a fountain’s sound. Then they have to step a bit closer. The speaker asks them to imagine a river the observer might one day surely embark on. She refers to a waterfall by looking at which one can spend an entire afternoon. The tumultuous dancing of water cannot be witnessed twice. This is not the case for a fountain.
In the following lines, the speaker tells the observer to come out of the street and enter the piazza filled with people. There they can locate a fountain. They have to follow the source of the sound. After walking for a few moments, they will be in front of a fountain where statues bow down in order to admire the marvel humans designed. It would seem as if the inanimate statues have come to life.
Observe it there – the fountain, too fast for shadows,
Too wild for the lights which illuminate it to hold,
Panicked by no perception of ourselves
But drawing the water down to the deepest wonder.
The third stanza of the poem is written in an elevated tone. Jennings describes how the fountain water runs so fast that it cannot be touched by shadows. The energy of a fountain is so wild that it even makes the light used for illumination less compelling. If one waits for a moment, one can observe how the water rushes back. Then the poet tells the reader to consider the prodigality of the fountain. For Jennings, it is an elegance because, in it, nature’s rushing forces are tamed. It keeps a thousand flowering sprays keeping the energy up and continuing.
The speaker draws readers’ attention to the “utter calm” that exists within the forceful sprays spurting out of a fountain. She finds a stillness there. Then she goes on to describe how this feeling is similar to standing at the edge of some perpetual stream and watching it. The precise flow of a fountain is fearful of human touch. Fountain water brings no thirst at all, but it soothes inner thirst. It is never panicked by what others conceive about it. Attentively, it draws the water down to the “deepest wonder.”
Elizabeth Jennings’ poem ‘Fountain’ is about the sustained energy and precise beauty of a fountain that highlights the importance of decorum, convention, and control. Throughout this poem, Jennings describes ways to appreciate the beauty of a fountain.
The poem was first published in Elizabeth Jennings’ 1958 collection of poetry entitled A Sense of the World. In one of her poems from the collection, Lucidities (1970), Jennings alludes to this piece as one of her favorites.
This piece taps on a number of themes that includes control, art, beauty, nature, and creativity. The poem explores different aspects of a fountain that appeal to our inner senses and calms the mind.
The text of Jennings’ poem is composed in free verse as there is no regular rhyme scheme or meter. It comprises three stanzas of unequal line lengths resonating with the rhythm of a fountain. Besides, the poem is written as a manual from the perspective of a didactic, third-person speaker.
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