Within ‘On Eastnor Knoll’ Masefield delves into themes of nature, time, and death. The poem’s mood is reverential throughout as the poet uses elevated and descriptive language, as well as a clear tone to depict the end of the day.
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Summary of On Eastnor Knoll
The poem takes the reader through a series of powerful images of the sunset, moonrise, and the casting of the world into shadow. Masefield uses a variety of poetic techniques to help the reader imagine what it was like to see that particular sunset and all other sunsets since time began.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of On Eastnor Knoll
‘On Eastnor Knoll’ by John Masefield is a three-stanza poem that’s separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains do not follow a specific rhyme scheme but the lines are fairly structured by a metrical pattern. The first three lines of each stanza contain somewhere between nine and eleven syllables, while the majority of them have ten. The last line of each stanza has five syllables.
Poetic Techniques in On Eastnor Knoll
Masefield makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘On Eastnor Knoll’. These include alliteration, enjambment, caesura, and personification. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, the repetition of words beginning with “s” in the second stanza. This technique is also known as sibilance.
Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might proceed an important turn or transition in the text. For example, line two of the first stanza. It reads: “Hushed in the twilight: yonder, in the path through”.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are several examples of this technique within ‘On Eastnor Knoll’. For instance, the transition between lines one, two, and three of the first stanza.
Personification occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. This technique can be seen in the fourth stanza where the oaks are described as a “silent army of phantoms” that have the alit to “throng… / A land of shadows”.
Analysis of On Eastnor Knoll
Silent are the woods, and the dim green boughs are
Calling the cows home.
In the first stanza of ‘On Eastnor Knoll’ the speaker begins by utilizing the line that later came to be used as the default title of the poem. The syntax is reversed in this line, making the lounge feeling elevated and poetic. This is fitting for the majestic and universal subject matter the poem explores.
The speaker describes the silence of the woods and the “Hushed” nature of the “dim green boughs”. They are “dim” because the sun is going down. Everything is concluding for the day. The speaker, as if looking at it at that very moment, points out “yonder…path”. It is there that one can see the “plough-boy” who is busy calling the cows home. This is a symbol for the day’s end, for plants, animals, and humans.
A bright white star blinks, the pale moon rounds, but
The misty hill-tops.
Moving away from the people and animals, the speaker focuses in on the “bright white star,” the moon, and the sun. These celestial bodies are each present in their own way in the sky. Each in flux, the star growing brighter, the sun setting and the moon rising. The speaker describes very beautifully and elegantly the way that the sun moves down beyond the horizon.
The fire and heat of the sun are emphasized and compared to “wreckage,” as if some kind of plane crashed and is throwing sparks, flames, and smoke into the sky. The sun is grand and powerful, button this moment it is being overtaken by the night.
Masefield makes use of sibilance in this line as he describes the “Still” red-coloured “sunset” that “Smoulders in smoky fire”.
Ghostly it grows, and darker, the burning
A land of shadows.
In the last quatrain of ‘On Eastnor Knoll’ the speaker concludes the day. The metaphorical smoke of the sun becomes ghostly. It “grows” and eventually fades away entirely. He also focuses on the “gusty oaks”. They appear, in the much-darkened horizon, to be “A silent army of phantoms”. They throw the land, covering and consuming it. Everything is in the shadow where it used to be in the light.