The poem was first published in Severe Gale 8, one section of her larger collection, The Adoption Papers, a very personal series of poems. ‘In the Seventh Year‘ is written in the first person narrative perspective.
Like all great lyric poems, it emphasizes pictorial imagery over a specific, clear narrative. This is unlike most Jackie Kay poems, like ‘My Grandmother’s Houses’ or ‘Love Nest,’ which depend entirely on emotion and perception rather than logic and reasoning.
Explore In the Seventh Year
‘In the Seventh Year’ by Jackie Kay is a nature and emotion-focused poem that describes a relationship in its seventh year.
The poem uses an extended metaphor to describe the ever-changing nature of the speaker’s relationship. The relationship is described as turbulent in one moment and beautiful and calm in the next. It is something that brings the speaker a great deal of pain and joy. It is “timeless” and “changing.” This suggests the speaker believes that the relationship is going to continue to change in the future. This isn’t something she’s dreading but something that she has embraced.
You can listen to the full poem here.
Context of In the Seventh Year
Context is a critical part of ‘The Seventh Year’ and will be incredibly helpful when conducting an analysis. This specific poem was written “for Louise” and is one of two that was dedicated to her. (But, it is unclear who “Louise” is or what she represented to Kay.) The second is ‘Photo in the Locket.’ It is far longer than ‘In the Seventh Year,’ but both poems are likely dedicated to the same biracial lesbian relationship.
Throughout this poem, readers should be on the lookout for features of 19th-century Romanticism. That is, elements that focus on the inner world, creativity over logic, emotions, and the natural world.
It may also be important to know that during this time in Kay’s life, she met Caroline Duffy, a woman with whom she’d spend 15 years.
Structure and Form
‘In the Seventh Year’ by Jackie Kay is a three-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains are written in free verse. This means that the poem does not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But, there are a few examples of rhyme, like “stones” and “bones,” in the middle of the second stanza.
Readers are also likely to notice how Kay chose not to use punctuation till the end of the poem. This creates a flowing feeling that’s meant to mimic the beauty of the relationship as well as the movement of water. This is further emphasized through the amount of sibilance that Kay uses (see more below).
In this poem, the poet uses the following literary devices:
- Extended Metaphor: occurs when the poet uses a metaphor across more than one line. In this case, the poet compares the speaker’s relationship to a sea. It is at times turbulent and dangerous and at others calm and beautiful.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “mysterious” and ”morning mist” in line one.
- Imagery: is used frequently throughout this poem. It’s seen when the poet uses a particularly effective description that triggers readers’ senses. For example, “We are turquoise and clear some days.”
- Caesura: a pause in the middle of a line of verse. This usually occurs through the poet’s use of punctuation. For example, “clasping this timeless, this changing thing.”
- Repetition: can be seen when the poet repeats any literary element. For instance, “seven years” in the last stanza.
Our sea is still mysterious as morning mist
when the sun dives in at night
The poet begins this piece with a collection pronoun, “Our,” suggesting that the two individuals are one and united in their views. She suggests that their relationship has always been mysterious, and it still is today. They are still learning about one another and their relationship. The poet uses a simile to compare their relationship to the morning mist that obscures what one would normally see around them.
The mist is personified as having “flapping arms” that stretch out from the sea for “dry sand” as well as “running heels” that slide over pebbles. It’s possible that Kay was considering this relationship as having two distinct sides. There is the side that desperately wants stability or dry land, and then the side that struggles to contend with that stability once it’s present (“sliding over pebbles).
The addition of “sun dives in at night” may allude to the fact that their issues, whatever they may be, as well as their joys, occur out of sight and within the darkness, just as the mist appears overnight and is seen in the morning.
We are turquoise and clear some days
my love an ache, the early light
The second stanza opens with an example of juxtaposition. The speaker describes their relationship as clear and breezy on some days and on others, “stormy like stones.”
This beautiful simile evokes a variety of feelings. The poet ensures readers are drawn to the juxtaposed images o a light breeze and heavy stones. In the second stanza, the poet also juxtaposes “stones” and “bones.” These end rhymes are the only example of a couplet in the text, and they fall right in the middle of the poem.
These stones are nearly unbreakable, while the “bones” are far more fragile. The speaker’s partner has access to her in an intimate and important way. Their relationship penetrates all the way to her bones and creates within her an “ache.” It is at once wonderful and painful.
spreading the water
clasping this timeless, this changing thing.
The second stanza is enjambed, forcing the reader to the first line of the third stanza to find out what the poet is going to describe the “early light” doing. She brings readers back to the water imagery in the first stanza, relating the beauty and mystery of her relationship to the sun dividing the water. It brings to mind the fact that the two have been together, and one way or another, for seven years.
The speaker repeats the phrase “seven years” multiple times; Jackie Kay conveys this by literally repeating “seven years” twice in the third stanza. She is meditating on the time they’ve spent together and what their relationship still means to her today.
Their relationship is a “timeless” and “changing thing.” It seems to transport the speaker beyond the normal bounds of day-to-day life while also keeping her grounded in the intensely emotional way it affects her. Despite the fact that they’ve been together for seven years, the relationship is still changing. As the first stanza suggested, there is still a great deal of mystery to be explored. They are the sea and as “mysterious as morning mist.”
Readers should also note the poet’s use of sibilance in these lines with the words “spreading,” “seven” (twice), and the “s” sound in “clasping this timeless, this.”
The purpose is to describe the emotional intensity of a relationship and compare it, through an extended metaphor, to the turbulent and ever-changing ocean. This speaker loves her relationship and, despite its less pleasant moments, doesn’t seem to want it to change.
It is likely that Jackie Kay chose this title in order to reference the concept of the “seven-year itch. This is a suggestion that after a committed relationship of seven years, couples begin to seek out change. But, the poet’s characters do not seem to follow the same pattern.
The tone of this poem is appreciative and loving. It is clear that the speaker has a great deal of affection for their partner. Although specific details of the relationship are not revealed, the speaker uses an appreciative and reverential tone throughout.
It is possible that Jackie Kay is using the same speaker that appeared in her poem ‘Photo in the Locket’ – that is, a lesbian woman in a bi-racial relationship. Both poems are dedicated to “Louise.”
If you enjoyed ‘In the Seventh Year,’ you should also consider reading some other Jackie Kay poems. For instance:
- ‘Plague’ – is a heartbreaking poem that is told from the perspective of a mother watching her two sons die of the plague.
- ‘Pork Pies’ – is a chilling piece of poetry that describes two young girls who kidnapped and possibly murdered a young boy.
- ‘Got You’ – is an interesting poem about sibling jealousy and rivalry.