‘A Thank-Offering‘ is written in very easy-to-read language. This allows readers from all walks of life to approach the nine-stanza poem and enjoy what Higginson has created. It is unclear who is the speaker of this particular text is meant to be. But, it is likely that Higginson shared the same beliefs as her grateful and faithful speaker.
A Thank-Offering Ella Higginson Lord God, the winter has been sweet and brief In this fair land; For us the budded willow and the leaf, The peaceful strand. For us the silver nights and golden days, The violet mist; The pearly clouds pierced with vibrating rays Of amethyst. At evening, every wave of our blue sea Hollowed to hold A fragment of the sunset’s mystery— A fleck of gold. The crimson haze is on the alder trees In places lush; Already sings with sweet and lyric ease The western thrush. Lord God, for some of us the days and years Have bitter been; For some of us the burden and the tears, The gnawing sin. For some of us, O God, the scanty store, The failing bin; For some of us the gray wolf at the door, The red, within! But to the hungry Thou hast given meat, Hast clothed the cold; And Thou hast given courage strong and sweet To the sad and old. And so we thank Thee, Thou most tender God, For the leaf and flower; For the tempered winds, and quickening, velvet sod, And the gracious shower. Yea, generous God, we thank Thee for this land Where all are fed, Where at the doors no freezing beggars stand, Pleading for bread.
Explore A Thank-Offering
‘A Thank-Offering’ by Ella Higginson is a simple poem in which the speaker thanks God for all that he is done.
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker uses lyrical language and many examples of imagery to describe their natural world. There are many beautiful sights to behold, all of which day is a tribute to God’s creation. They acknowledge that people around them have suffered, but God has always been there to provide the needy with resources. The poem concludes with the speaker thanking God for all he has provided.
Structure and Form
‘A Thank-Offering’ by Ella Higginson is a nine-stanza poem divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF, and so on, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza.
The poet also chose to use alternating metrical patterns in the odd and even-numbered lines. The odd-numbered lines are written in iambic pentameter, while the even-numbered lines are in iambic dimeter. The latter refers to lines that contain a total of four syllables. These are divided into two sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. Iambic pentameter follows the same pattern of syllables, but there are five sets of two beats for a total of ten syllables.
Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Caesura: can be seen when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of verse. For example, “For some of us, O God, the scanty store.”
- Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or words at the beginning of lines. For example, “And” which begins lines two and three.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of stanza four and lines one and two of stanza five.
- Imagery: can be seen with the poet uses especially effective examples and descriptions. For example, “The crimson haze is on the alder trees / In places lush” and “The pearly clouds pierced with vibrating rays / Of amethyst.”
Stanzas One and Two
Lord God, the winter has been sweet and brief
In this fair land;
For us the budded willow and the leaf,
The peaceful strand.
For us the silver nights and golden days,
The violet mist;
The pearly clouds pierced with vibrating rays
In the first stanzas of the poem, the poet begins by addressing God. Often, addresses to God, or prayers, are considered apostrophes. This refers to a technique in which the poet uses a persona who addresses someone or something who cannot hear them or respond to them.
They utilize the first stanza and the second to relay details about their life to God. They are speaking from a third-person perspective, using words like “us” and “we.” They describe the brief and “sweet” winter that they experienced as well as the “silver nights and golden days.”
Throughout these two stanzas, the poet makes use of numerous examples of imagery. It feels as though the poet is attempting to relay the most beautiful details of their life, seen mostly through natural imagery, to God. This is an interesting choice considering that in the Christian tradition, God can see and know everything that everyone experiences. Therefore, the poet speaker’s address to God serves another purpose.
As the lines progress, it becomes clear that they are prefacing their “thanks” to God for all that he has given them and those around them. Eventually, the speaker states this quite clearly. But, for now, they are outlining the wonderful experiences and sights that God, in their belief system, created for them.
At the beginning of the poem, the tone is peaceful and content. It’s quite clear that the speaker feels as though they are living in a wonderful time and a wonderful place and are grateful to see what they have seen.
Stanzas Three and Four
At evening, every wave of our blue sea
Hollowed to hold
A fragment of the sunset’s mystery—
A fleck of gold.
The crimson haze is on the alder trees
In places lush;
Already sings with sweet and lyric ease
The western thrush.
Progressing into the third and fourth stanzas, the speaker describes the evenings, such as the “blue sea” and the “sunsets mystery.” Here, the poet is alluding to all that God has imbued the world with. While much is evident, many more secrets lie hidden, they suggest.
The poet takes a very lyrical approach to their speaker’s depiction of the natural world. They are idealizing the sea, the woods, birdsong, the sunset, and more. By using words like “gold” and “Crimson,” they also ensure that readers interpret their environment in the brightest and most saturated way. Additionally, the tone is emphasized through the description of the “lyric ease” of the “western thrush.” Just as the bird sings, so too does the speaker relay information about their world.
Stanzas Five and Six
Lord God, for some of us the days and years
Have bitter been;
For some of us the burden and the tears,
The gnawing sin.
For some of us, O God, the scanty store,
The failing bin;
For some of us the gray wolf at the door,
The red, within!
There is a transition in the speaker’s descriptions between the fourth and fifth stanzas. Up to this point, the speaker has focused entirely on the positives. Now, they bring in elements of the negative, including descriptions of the suffering that “some of us” have endured.
In these lines, the poet also makes use of anaphora. This can be seen through the repetition of the same phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, in this case, “For some of us.” Although God, in the speaker’s belief system, is sure to be aware of all the suffering that everyone has endured, the poet makes sure that their speaker also mentions the “Grey wolf at the door” and the “scanty store.” Both of these references are metaphors.
The former refers to the danger lurking outside one’s home, physically or anecdotally. The “grey wolf at the door” could be illness, economic failure, or another fear that’s right around the corner. The phrase “the scanty store” is another metaphor, in this case, one that refers to the scant supplies or food stores (or perhaps even savings) that some people are contending with.
Stanzas Seven and Eight
But to the hungry Thou hast given meat,
Hast clothed the cold;
And Thou hast given courage strong and sweet
To the sad and old.
And so we thank Thee, Thou most tender God,
For the leaf and flower;
For the tempered winds, and quickening, velvet sod,
And the gracious shower.
In the seventh and eighth stanzas, the speaker reveals the purpose of the composition of their poem. They wanted to address the positives and the negatives in the lives of those they see around them. Then, give thanks to God for providing “meat” to the hungry and clothing to the cold. God has given “courage strong and sweet” to the “sad and old.” And, in the speaker’s view, God has provided the suffering with relief.
Throughout the poem, the speaker provides reasons for thanking God and then the thanks itself. They thank “tender God” for the natural world, the “tempered winds,” and the “gracious shower.” The latter is a great example of personification. The rain shower comes when the community, or world, needs at most, taking care of drought and dehydration. Because the population is so “grateful” when it comes, the poet chose to describe the shower itself as “gracious” in order to say more with fewer words.
Yea, generous God, we thank Thee for this land
Where all are fed,
Where at the doors no freezing beggars stand,
Pleading for bread.
In the final stanza, the poet addresses God once more, calling him “generous” and thanking him, very simply, for providing them with land from which to gain their sustenance and for the fact that there are “no freezing beggars” standing outside “pleading for bread.”
Having read all nine stanzas of this piece, it is clear that the speaker is describing a very idealized existence. Whether or not the reality truly matches with the description that they provide is up for interpretation by individual readers.
The theme is gratitude to God. The speaker spends the first part of the poem outlining elements of the natural world that they are thankful for. Then, they transition to discussing how they have seen people in their community suffering. But, God has provided for them. The poem concludes with multiple offerings of thanks for the salvation God has provided.
Throughout this poem, the tone is peaceful, content, and thankful. The poet’s speaker maintains a calm and clear outlook on their situation. They use lyrical and quite beautiful language to describe the natural world and do not turn away from reminding readers of the suffering that they’ve seen as well.
The speaker is someone who has a strong Christian faith and believes that God is responsible for providing them with everything that they have.
Higginson likely wrote this poem to express beliefs that were fundamental to her life. Although it’s not explicitly stated in the text, it’s very likely that Higginson shared the feelings of her chosen speaker and wrote this poem in order to express her gratitude to God.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider exploring some related pieces. For example:
- ‘The Harvest Moon’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – describes the way that the light of the harvest moon touches everything. It is an indication that fall is here and that winter is on its way.
- ‘Remember’ by Joy Harjo – a thoughtful poem about human connection and the earth. The poet emphasizes how important it is to remember one’s history and relation to all living things.
- ‘A Friend’s Greeting’ by Edgar Guest – a heart-touching poem about a speaker’s gratitude for his dearest friend. This poem is written in the form of a greeting in verse.