The poem, Reminiscence, by Elizabeth Jennings is about experiencing love in childhood and adulthood. As the very title of the poem suggests itself that it is about the nostalgic feeling of childhood. The poet, comparing her childhood with the adulthood, says that her childhood was honest and innocent. Love in her childhood was neither complicated nor violently emotional. Remembering her childhood, the poet says that she could live her life as she wished.
On the contrary, her adulthood introduces her to the stony world which asks for meanings of everything. She says where her childhood was full of glittering life; her adulthood taught her about the clarity of life. She says where in her childhood she never felt to understand the meaning of love and other things, her adulthood taught her the reality of life, but she says she doesn’t need such clarity.
The poet says where her childhood was a “glittering landscape” of life, her adulthood was a “stony landscape” with full of life meanings. In her childhood, she had to make sense of everything, but in her childhood, she never tried to draw meaning out of anything. Everything in her childhood was as clear as water, but in her adulthood, everything was full of complications and sophistication. So, the poet was happy alone in her childhood, but in her adulthood, she neither wants to learn nor understand anything in her life.
The poem, Reminiscence, by Elizabeth Jennings has been written in three quatrains, having the rhyme scheme pattern of abba cdcd efef. All of its lines have been presented in the same length. It has a very simple structure, which best complements, its theme, that is; “The Lack of Complexity in Childhood.”
From the language point of view, the poem is very simple to read and understand. But just as the poet has used imagery for childhood, it sharply contrasts with the adulthood. The poet says: the children have a very honest and innocent world. A child’s love in this stage is “cloudless and gentle”, and the day, as the poet says, is similar to a “web”, – a soft and delicate object. However, such soft and gentle imagery stands quite opposite to the “shapeless stony stuff”, of the adult’s world, wherein they have to make sense of everything.
The poem also has contrasting emotive words, such as in childhood, there is love, but as we grow adult we “fret with thought”, when one became too “subtle” and “numb with fear”. On the other hand, the poet has used words like “love”, “happy”, “gentle”, and “cloudless”, but for adulthood, she has used words like “whittle”, “fret”, “confuses”, “numb” and “stony”. So, the type of language the poet has used in this poem, it helps in understanding the meaning of the words the poet has used to differentiate between childhood and adulthood. Through these words, the poet wants to say that the childhood is uncomplicated and guileless, while the words used to describe adulthood indicate towards its complicacy and sophistication.
The poem, Reminiscence, has three types of imagery (metaphors). Such as, you will find the first one when the poet says: “web to weave” which is used to metaphorize a child’s fantasies. The imagery like “shapeless stony stuff” refers to the problems a person has to face as an adult. The third one is “glittering landscape”, which, in itself, is an image of life, with its myriad meanings and facets.
The poem consists of a lyrical and nostalgic tone. From the very first stanza to the third last, we find that the bridegroom works as a subtle shift between the caressing tone used for childhood and the harsher tone used for adulthood.
Analysis of Reminiscence
When I was happy alone, too young for love
Long as I wished its length or web to weave.
The first stanza of the poem starts with first-person ‘I’, which means the poet introduces herself right from the very first line of the poem. Through this stanza, we come to know that the poet is trapped in her own thoughts. It is to be noted that this is not a love poem as the word ‘love’ is used in the first and second lines as the poem indicates. Though at first glance, these words may let you think that this is a love poem, as we move ahead with the poem, we come to know that the poet is remembering her childhood memories and comparing its innocence with the harshness of adulthood.
So, as the poem starts, the poet says that she was very much happy in her childhood. Though she was “too young for love’ yet, she was happy. She could be loved anyway. Even the experienced ‘Love’ in her childhood was cloudless and gentle. It was neither complicated nor violently emotional. With this honesty and innocence of love, she spent her childhood as she wished. There was no sophistication in her happiness. She passed her long and lengthy day by weaving the web. So, in this first stanza of the poem, the poet imagines about her childhood and remembers memories that she spent in her childhood.
I did not know or could not know enough
That now confuses since I’ve grown too subtle.
In the first stanza; where the poet talks about her childhood love and its honesty and innocence, in the second stanza, she is shown as an adult woman who finds herself surrounded by the ‘stony stuff’. She says where in her childhood she doesn’t have to understand anything, in her adulthood she has to make a meaning of everything. This means that the childhood full of love is gentle, while the adulthood with full of bitter experience is stony. In her adulthood, she finds herself troubled by sophisticated knowledge and thoughts. During her childhood, the poet didn’t have to be worried or “fret at thought”. Neither had she to make any sense of anything (“whittle a pattern”), nor she has to be sophisticated with the complicated thoughts. The poet says that her adult world consists of ‘stony stuff’ to understand what she counters in her life, and she (the poet) has herself become too ‘subtle’ for her own self.
I used the senses, did not seek to find
And O was happy not to have it clear.
In this last third stanza of the poem, the poet goes on remembering her childhood, and says that when she was in this stage, she never had to make use of her senses to know and understand the world, nor was she ever found bothered to understand what her senses wasn’t able to sense. Since the poet never tried to know and understand the unknown, she also didn’t even have to be “numb with fear” in her childhood. The poet says that she regards her childhood as her life’s “glittering landscape”, there was no clarity in it, that is; it was not clear. Quite the opposite of the first one, the stage of adulthood makes life more clear, but the poet categorically says that she doesn’t require such clarity.