‘Discovery’ by Florence Ripley Mastin is a three-stanza poem which is separated into three uneven sets of lines and one final line, or monostich. The first stanza contains ten lines, the second, five, and the third, seven. There is also one concluding single line by itself at the end.
‘Discovery’ is written in free verse, meaning that there is no consistent rhyme scheme, or pattern of meter, to the poem. The lines vary greatly in length, with some containing only three words, while others stretch to eight or nine.
Summary of Discovery
The poem begins with the speaker stating that she is in the woods, walking down a “gray path.” There is nothing too bright or bold before her. In fact, everything is quite peaceful. There are a few interesting sounds, and a beautiful lilac on the forest floor, but nothing more than that.
All of a sudden, coming as a surprise to both the speaker and the reader, there is a path of bright red tulips on the side of the road. This appearance, and the strength which with the flowers assert themselves, inspire the speaker to change.
She sees them, feels their power, and wishes that she could be as they are. She no longer cares for the silence of the woods. If she could, she would tear the silence to pieces. The poem concludes with the speaker realizing that some internal part of her being has been seen by the tulips.
You can read the full poem Discovery here.
Analysis of Discovery
The gray path glided before me
Through cool, green shadows;
Little leaves hung in the soft air
Drew me down to her on the warm grass.
“How sweet is peace!”
My serene heart said.
The speaker begins this piece by describing a path that is spreading out before her. Whenever one is faced with a path, whether in life or literature, there are always important decisions that have led one there. While there is very minimal background given on the life of this speaker, or revealed about the life of the poet through the text, one can assume the need to discover and experience “discovery” is an important impulse guiding the speaker.
The path the speaker is walking does not appear to be dangerous or frightful. It seems to be peaceful, pastoral, and somewhat ideal. The pay is “gray” in color, but it is also dappled with “cool, green shadows.” It is likely that these shadows are being cast by leaves, especially when the next line makes specific mention of hanging leaves. They are light, small, and hang “soft” in the air. Their appearance reminds the speaker of “drowsy moths,” slowly swaying in a breeze.
While this seems to be a peacefully quiet moment, the next lines make clear that there is a wide variety of sound ringing out from the landscape. She first hears a group of trees, which gathered together, seem to be “conferring,” or talking. This realization makes her pay closer attention to the other sounds around here. They are numerous and “gaucherie,” or un-arranged.
The speaker’s attention is soon drawn away. She has moved farther along the path, taking note of new sights and sounds. There is one in particular, a small lilac flower, which she immediately notices. It “drew” her onto the “warm grass.” She is kneeling beside it and feels an overwhelming sense of peace from its form. Her heart is satisfied and “serene” feeling after this moment.
Then, suddenly, in a curve of the road,
They marched with fluttering flags,
And gay fifes playing!
In the next stanza, which is only made up of five lines, the speaker comes to the climax of the poem. This is the point of the greatest action and where the most important decisions are made or the grandest sights seen. The moment the speaker sees the flowers seems to come from nowhere.
She describes this moment as occurring at the curve of a road. There is a physical change to the landscape, a mental change in the speaker’s perspective, and a very obvious change to the types of colours and forms she is seeing on her “gray path.”
There is a whole grouping of “Red tulips!” in the curve of the road. She is clearly excited and surprised about this discovery. As stated previously, they seem to have come from nowhere.
The tulips have immediate power over the speaker. She sees them as being valuable, strong, and incredibly visceral in appearance. They are like a “battalion” of brightly coloured flowers. They are holding their ground against any who come upon them. This metaphor is extended over the next two lines as the speaker states that they seem so militaristic and strong that they might as well be “marching with fluttering flags” and playing “gay” tunes on a “fife,” or small flute.
It is clear from this brief description that the tulips are incredibly out-of-place in the landscape. Everything thus far has been green, gray, or shaded. They hold the only real color in the speaker’s surroundings.
A swift flame leapt in my heart;
I burned with passion;
Until it sobbed and bled.
The tulips have found me out.
The finals stanza of the poem contains eight lines and brings the speaker’s own personal feelings and mental state into the narrative. This moment that she has experienced, coming upon the bursting red tulips in an otherwise beautiful but drab forest, has been an altering one.
She now feels as if a “swift flame” has “leapt” up into her heart. She has a new fire within her and she is unable to control it. It is like a burning “passion.” It cuts to the core of the speaker’s way of seeing and she is overcome with the need to “march in the wind.” She feels as if she not only needs to, but must take steps to become more assertive and self-focused.
Additionally, she is no longer taken in by the “silence” of the woods. It is not something she wishes to preserve, instead, she feels the need to “slash” and “tear” the silence and “sober green.”
The final lines of the poem state that the “tulips” have drawn something from the speaker that she has never acknowledged, a need to discover something in herself which will make her better. She feels like a new person and now she just needs to act that way.