‘I Sit and Think’ by J.R.R. Tolkien is a two stanza poem which is separated into sets of six lines, or sestets. The lines follow a constant and structured rhyme scheme that conforms to a pattern of aabbccdd. A reader will notice that while not all the rhymes are repeated in the second stanza, the first couplet rhymes with the first couplet of the preceding stanza. Tolkien chose this pattern of rhyme in an effort to unify his text.
This particular rhyme scheme helps to enhance the contemplative and peaceful mood of the poem. The speaker is reminiscing on his life and by speaking through couplets, the phrases come across as both concise and poetic.
A reader should also take note of a number of different images that appear in the piece. The first and most prominent of these is the use of the seasons to mark time. Tolkien’s speaker references summer, autumn, and spring within the first stanza. These time periods are described using a great amount of natural detail. It is clear Tolkien valued environmental imagery as these sights are foremost on the speaker’s mind.
Summary of I Sit and Think
The poem begins with the speaker acknowledging the fact that eventually, a time will come in which he does not see another season. This brings him great sadness and forces him to recall the springs, summers, and autumns he lived through. They were vibrant and beautiful. Now though, they only exist within his mind.
Within the second stanza, the speaker continues his meditation on life and death. He is sitting and thinking about everything he didn’t get to see or do. The speaker is still very concerned with the natural world and marks his missed opportunities through un-witnessed “green” spaces.
The mood of the poem darkens as he describes the fact that the future generations will know a world he will never see. This is something that deeply bothers him and over which he would like to mourn. Before he can progress any farther into sadness the present draws his attention. He mentions that there will soon be the sounds of footsteps returning to his door. These are his friends and family members who he would rather enjoy while he can then mourn over something he can’t change.
You can read the full poem I Sit and Think here.
Analysis of I Sit and Think
I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been;
I sit beside the fire and think of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker describes his location. This is the place from which he is going to be relaying information about his life. The moments he will describe throughout the text first come to him as he sits “beside the fire” and thinks about everything he has seen in his life. It is interesting to note, as mentioned above, the way the speaker goes immediately to a natural scene. This is the first part of his experience he wishes to relay, meaning it holds some importance to the speaker.
He describes seeing,
meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been;
This line, and that which follows, first present a scene, and then remind the reader it no longer exists. The “meadow-flowers and butterflies” lived many years ago in a summer scene from his youth. It only exists in his memory and within the words he uses to describe it. The following line works in the same way. The “yellow leaves” he remembers in the “autumns” of his life are gone. These memories are all rich with color and emotion. They are “gossamer,” as the leaves were.
He goes on to speak about how the elements of the landscape touched and moved him. The speaker is able to recall how the “morning mist” and “silver sun” felt on his skin and hair. Tolkien’s use of alliteration in this line should be noted as it increases the fluidity of the phrase.
In the final couplet the speaker looks away from the past and into the future. He is imagining a time when he will no longer be alive. There will eventually be a “winter” he never sees the end of. The “spring” will arrive after he is dead. This is a dark and depressing line, but shows an even greater emphasis on nature and its marking of the days of his life.
For still there are so many things that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring there is a different green.
But all the while I sit and think of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet and voices at the door.
In the second stanza, the speaker continues his focus on nature but adds in some greater specifics about his own life. He feels somewhat mournful over the days he has lost and will lose. There were a great number of “things” that he has not gotten to see. These things exist in,
Every wood in every spring there is a different green.
It is the various “green[s],” or landscapes of the world, the speaker regrets not being able to see. In the next couplet, he casts his thoughts to the “people” who were born before him and those who will outlive him. He feels jealously towards the future generations and the experiences they might have. They will “see a world that [he] shall never know.”
In regards to the past, he is attempting to reconcile his own eventual death with the innumerable other deaths that occurred previously. He is not alone is missing out on the future.
The final couplet brings the reader into the speaker’s present moment. Although he spends time thinking about both the past and future, it is the present that always captures his attention. His thoughts are broken up by the sound of “returning feet and voices at the door.” The friends, family, and acquaintances he has now are more important to him than any speculation, or grief, over his future.