E Elizabeth Jennings

The Diamond Cutter by Elizabeth Jennings

In the poem, ‘The Diamond Cutter’, by Elizabeth Jennings, the speaker talks not of ‘the thing’ but ‘the absence of it’. When we speak of a symbol, two realities are involved, the abstract and the concrete, the latter representing the former; that is, in our thinking, the abstract is inherent in the concrete. Certain words and objects immediately raise symbolic values in the mind: cross, flag, hammer, dove and sickle, a diagonally striped pole outside a certain shop.

The Diamond Cutter by Elizabeth Jennings


The Diamond Cutter Analysis

The sources of our symbols are as old as man himself and have to do with the deep-rooted human beliefs and practices and with man’s relation to his environment/ Inevitably, there, certain symbols exist and may be understood only in particular places and ethnic groups. Poetry, generally, does not depend on such localized symbols, but on more universal ones, those commonly understood everywhere, like the objects taken from the world of creation: grass, rain, sun, stone, mountain, night, day, sky, sea, soil, storm, thunder – all these in their different and changing moods and character.

We are all symbol-makers because this activity is a crucial part of the process of our thinking. Man lives in two realities simultaneously, the tangible and the intangible (this visible concrete and the absent abstract), and he is constantly striving to manifest the absent abstract by means of the visible concrete objects of his world.

The product of this act of representing an invisible thought or concept with a tangible object or situation or character goes under the general name of metaphor. The act of metaphorizing is as varied as the inventiveness of thinking act itself, and the symbol is only one of the metaphysical manifestations.

For study purposes, let’s divide the symbols of poetry into two: the universal and the specially invented. The universal symbol takes its source from the objects and the processes of nature. The specially-invented symbol is any object that becomes symbolic through the invention of the poet, and it holds true only within its context. And invented symbol, although it may be taken from the world of nature, does not hold true outside the poem in which it is used.

Since the symbol represents the concept or is closely related to it, the poem uses its symbols most effectively in two ways: by the devices of the central symbol and the symbolic thread. The central symbol is used as a crucial instrument in revealing the poetic meaning, and the symbolic thread is really a pattern or cluster of relevant symbols running through the fabric of the poetic material. These two symbol devices may be used singly or together in the poem, ‘The Diamond Cutter’. This is because the poem expresses a very abstract and subtle idea; it has to represent this idea in a visible and tangible object, which is the diamond. The poem explains the fundamental element that makes for the integrity and worthiness of an act or object.

What makes an action or a thing intrinsically pure and honest, and gives it value and worth?

The diamond, in this poem, has been described as a symbol for this fundamental element, and the precious stone exhibits its real worth through the proper shaping by the diamond cutter. The poem explains this fundamental element both by describing what it is not, and what is. These descriptions are done in the form of symbolic objects, situations, and acts, and here is the list of words the poet has used in the poem:



  • “not what the light will do”
  • “not how the sun was plausible at morning”
  • “not how it was distributed at noon”
  • “and not how much the single stone could show”
  • “countless, untouched galaxies”


What-it-is symbols

  • “how he shapes I”
  • “what particular colors it would bear”
  • “something of the climber’s concentration…setting the right foot there”
  • “how much brilliance it would shun”
  • “simply a paring down”
  • “a creative to one object”
  • “star gazer who sees/One single comet polished by its fall”

Since the poetic truth about anything – including about objects and animals – are marked by human relevance, we may take the diamond to symbolize human integrity, its basic purity, and worthiness. The poem says that the fundamental basis of these qualities lies not in the reflection of brilliance, not in how much it dazzles, but in the achieved qualities inherent in the stone itself; shape, color, concentration; not how it reflects a scattering of light, but rather the stripping-away of these inessentials, leaving the one stark object in all its own basic purity.

In this poem, the diamond is the central symbol, and those in the list form the symbolic thread. The diamond is a universal symbol, taken from the natural world.


About Elizabeth Jennings

Born in Boston, Elizabeth Jennings began her journey of poem-writing on being encouraged by one of her schoolteachers. She was also greatly fascinated by the poetry of her uncle whose poetry she read on a frequent basis and found them too melodic and interesting to avoid.

Although a large number of poems that she wrote during her early age were inspired by Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, G. K. Chesterton’s ‘Battle of Lepanto’, and then the Odes of Keats, but the poem, ‘The Diamond Cutter‘, get her immense recognition and publicity. After the success of this poem, she never looked back and went on succeeding in her poetry career.

In addition to Coleridge, G. K. Chesterton, and Keats, her poems were also later influenced by Edwin Muir and Robert Frost.

When you read through Jennings’s poems, you find the complete lack of decoration, vagueness, and any type of mystification. All her poems are in fact strongly logical and full of emotional sensitivity.

Jennings makes use of every possible poetic tools and technique, and almost all of her poems are very easy to understand and consists of layman typestyle and structure. Like several other poets of her time, the poetry of Jennings doesn’t have any type of literary decoration and pretentiousness.

It is only by virtue of her poetry contribution, she has been regarded as the finest poet of the twentieth century. The height of imagination in her poetry is beyond the imagination of those poets whose poetry work is based on seer speculations and imagination.

Whether you read ‘The Diamond Cutter’ or her any other poem, she serves the themes of her poems in a very simple and sober way.

Elizabeth Jennings is an often overlooked poet, at least around these parts. Perhaps the fact that English poets of Britain, aside from the most famous, are sometimes lost due to the flood of study on Canadian counterparts plays a part in our under-appreciation of them.  Jennings (1926-2001) was a prolific crafter of language who balanced her technical skill with accessible lines and subjects.

Jennings sees things in objects that we miss, creates a sense of the divine in what we perceive to be merely natural or human. Many of her poems deal with people as her primary subject, and she gives a perspective we would never have gained without her artist’s insight. And sometimes person and object meld into a unified image.

In the poem, ‘The Diamond Cutter’, the poet has described the diamond as a symbol for two fundamental elements discussed above. The precious stone shows its real worth when it is given proper shape by the diamond cutter. The poem gives an account of this fundamental element both by detailing what it is not, and what is.

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Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      You have lost me here!

  • I’m afraid there is a chronic lack of actual analysis of language here. Here is my interpretation of this poem-hopefully it makes more sense for other students looking for good analysis for such a vague poem.
    – “The Diamond Cutter”-it depicts the process of cutting and polishing a rough chunk of rock into a brilliant gemstone. Reflects a progression from opaque to clarity- a metaphorical representation of the role of a creator (of the symbol) as one who gives abstracts ideas an accessible and physical form.
    – “Not what the light will do…it will bear” Undermines the significance of the physical nature of the light by outright dismissing its relevance within the context of creating a symbol.
    Instead, the persona places emphasis on the symbolic meaning of the light.
    Furthermore, “bear” implies that meaning is given to the light by the creator- it is inherently meaningless.
    – “white peak” Both words are traditionally symbolic of wisdom and spiritual enlightenment. The persona is suggesting that the act of creation is journey the creator embarks on, as he attempts to give form to the abstract. In doing so, he gains familiarity with the concept and becomes more enlightened.
    – “show…shun” Alliteration, leading to a parallel structure in the couplet. Suggesting that creation is equal parts what it is and what it isn’t -reference to the dichotomy all creations must embody.

    – “Paring” and “cleaving” are both active-borderline violent and destructive-verbs. Suggests cutting away parts of an object.
    Refers to act of refining an object, but the destructive connotations associated with it in this instance instead suggest a recklessness- undermines the intent of refinement.
    Perhaps the speaker is suggesting that, in refining a symbol, it will lose elements which lends it individuality.
    Link back to the adult tendency to ascribe meaning undermining one’s connection with Creation.
    – “One single comet…countless untouched galaxies”
    Two possible interpretations here. Use the one that better fits the thesis.
    1) Parallel structure links and compares the comet to galaxies. The comet is a vestige of the entirety of celestial bodies. This reflects the nature of symbols, as a small part of a far larger idea that can never be encapsulated due to the limitations of physical existence.
    2) The comet is given the capacity to represent many galaxies-something far greater than itself. Reflects the power of creation and the creator in allowing something small to carry the essence of a far greater abstract.
    – “fall” The comet descends from the sky to earth- symbolic of a descent from the divine to the earthly. This presents the comet as an earthly interpretation of a divine principle of idea which is beyond our comprehension. However, this also suggests that the comet no longer possesses its divine qualities by falling-it is a shadow of what it seeks to represent.

    Best of luck! Jennings is terribly hard and I’ve had trouble with most of her poetry but this is one I found relatively easy.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Hi there and thank you for your feedback. This is a really thoughtful message. Would you mind awfully if I used this to improve the original analysis? Also, you should drop the site an email, we are always on the look out for people who know their poetry to write for us. You clearly have a good grasp of the art form.

      • Please do use it! I’m studying Jennings this year and I think I can submit some analysis on various other poems by her.

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