‘Waterfall’ by Laurice Dorothy Edmond is an emotive poem that deals with the transience of youth and life. The first stanzas of the poem metaphorically describe how one’s youth quickly fades away. While the following stanzas talk about love and life. According to the speaker, when she was younger her heart was filled with the craving of love. But after her beloved’s unfortunate death, she can understand the shortness of life. She is enlightened with the fact that it is like water falling from a distant height. Once it falls, it does not return to the height. The same goes for life. Here is an analysis of ‘Waterfall’ looking at the context, structure, and form of the poem.
‘Waterfall’ by Lauris Dorothy Edmond describes how the speaker misses her beloved by the metaphor of the waterfall and drops of water.
This poem begins with a note on the transience of youth. According to the poetic persona, one cannot change the course of time and relive the youthful days. Like the drops of water falling fast, time passes by. The waterfall mentioned in the poem reminds her of her beloved. By using figurative language, Edmond makes it clear that her partner is no more. For this reason, she muses on the subject alone. Lastly, she talks about how death is the ultimate destination for human beings and her lover has already reached there.
You can read the full poem here.
The poem does not rhyme at all which creates a flowing sensation (possibly representing time flowing by). This is supported by the fact only the first character of each stanza is capitalized, so it seems each stanza is one long line to read. It is important to note that full-stops are used throughout the whole poem at the end of each stanza. This creates some structure for the poem, especially with the fact each stanza has six lines.
I do not ask for youth, nor for delay
in the rising of time’s irreversible river
all that I have and all I am always losing
as sunlight lights each drop fast, fast falling.
Immediately, Lauris starts by talking about ‘time’s irreversible river’. It is clear already that this poem is going to have a lot in common with time as a theme. The ‘irreversible river’ is personifying time as a river, that you can only go in one direction and not turn around – much like a waterfall. It is also clear Lauris does not want to go back in time from the first line ‘I do not ask for youth, nor for delay’.
By describing the waterfall as ‘jewelled’ makes it seem picturesque, that it is of something beautiful. Since a waterfall is part of nature, Lauris creates a link between nature and beauty.
Juxtaposition is created on the third line, ‘I glimpse, minute by glinting minute’. A glimpse is a partial view of something contrasting against the fact she is looking for minutes. There is also alliteration created from ‘glimpse’ and ‘glinting’.
The last line of the first stanza uses a very interesting technique of repeating words for extra emphasis one after the other, ‘sunlight lights‘ and ‘fast, fast falling’. She is making clear how the sun crystallizes the water falling. The sunlight could be regarded as happiness as both are associated with being bright and positive. So, it is happiness and the joyous moments in life that make clear how ‘fast’ the water is falling from the waterfall – time flies by when you are having fun.
Alliteration is created from repeating words and also continues the theme of time. By repeating the word continues the flow of the poem.
I do not dream that you, young again,
might come to me darkly in love’s green darkness
and water holds our reflections
motionless, as if for ever.
In this stanza, Lauris is talking about someone she had feelings for. By looking at her history, she was married to a man named Trevor Edmond (1920 – 1990). Although it is unclear when she wrote ‘Waterfall’, it is possible she wrote it towards the end of the marriage or when Trevor passed away. This is because this poem makes clear she is missing a loved one: Trevor.
Lauris misses Trevor but does not wish to go back in time to ‘ask for youth’ or ‘dream that you, young again’, as much as she enjoyed the memories of being young, supporting how she is flowing along with time. However, the reader will want to know why Lauris does not want to go back in time, to a time where the reader guesses were happy memories with her loved one.
Lauris refers to love as a ‘green darkness’. She emphasizes how the love is dark by mentioning it twice. However, why is love dark? Does Lauris not enjoy the love since representing the love as dark makes it sound negative? As well as this, the choice of color for love gives an impression of natural love.
The line mentioning ‘bracken’ is very interesting. There are two alternating generations of bracken, one large plant that produces spores and a small plant that produces sex cells. So, the ‘spices in the air’ could refer to something sexual. The theme of nature continues in the stanza.
The comma after ‘motionless’ creates a pause moment – this pause makes the poem almost come to a standstill: motionless, contrasting against the flow the poem has had up to them in parallel to how time flows.
Lauris talks about water holding their reflections ‘motionless, as if for ever’. This creates a strong juxtaposition against everything else in the poem since before she has been talking about time as an ‘irreversible river’ that cannot be stopped etc. But, her reflection is ‘motionless, as if forever’ – her love for her partner was enough to overpower time and stop it or moments will come and go but memories are timeless.
In the third stanza, she comes back to the reality, of Lauris and Trevor being in a room. She doesn’t want to relive the past but it will simply be ‘enough now’ for her and her lover to sit in a room, and make ‘mild conversation’.
The ‘face chastened by years’ suggests they are both old so it is a progressive poem that is in chronological order. The fact the poem continues the same path parallel to time emphasizes how time is all empowering and, to some extent, has control over the structure of this poem.
Lauris mentions ‘eyes that are shred’ – it seems the love for each other has been tested over the years and is a strained love if they have made judgment upon one another be it ‘careful’. The fact that one can make ‘mild conversation, without nostalgia’ suggests both Lauris and Trevor did not feel the same love that once felt for each other, but still appreciate each other with ‘kindness’.
But when you leave me, with your jauntiness
sinewed by resolution more than strength
however luminous and grand, falls fast
and only once to the dark pool below.
The last stanza is brilliant. She describes that it is only when her partner leaves her that she loves him the most – it is when she has not got her lover that she misses him most – a theme about taking things for granted possibly considering up to this point, the love for Trevor has not bee that strong.
Lauris then finishes the poem talking about the water from the waterfall reflecting on the cruel mistress which is time, ‘falls fast and only once to the dark pool below’. The water is time and the ‘dark pool’ could suggest death, that her lover has lived then has fallen victim to time and death.
Her potential point to this is that no matter how beautiful and amazing her love for her partner is, it will not overpower time like she thought the ‘motionless, as if forever’ memory would. Time is always in power and will always mean everything will not last forever. When Trevor leaves her and dies, she loves him the most because she knows he will never be able to come back and misses him most when gone.
Ultimately, I feel this is a regretful poem by Lauris Edmond. She obviously had affectionate feelings for Trevor, her husband. But, she never really showed it or appreciated him while he was there. Lauris simply let time tick away until the moment came when he died. After knowing he will never come back, only then does she realize how much she actually loved him and it because he cannot come back and that the water, being personified as time, ‘falls fast and only once’, as much as in hindsight it would not.
The tone of this poem is nostalgic, low-spirited, emotive, and thoughtful. Edmond’s speaker thoughtfully remembers the days when she was together with her love in a nostalgic vein. When she looks at the present moment, it becomes clear that no matter how she tries to hold her beloved’s hands tightly, death will come at the final hour to take the loved one away.
The title of the poem presents a waterfall as a symbol of life. According to the speaker, the drop of water that falls from the height is a representation of the soul. When it plunges below, it cannot revert the journey to the top. Life goes on, so do the waterdrops.
This poem is filled with metaphors. Firstly, the title is a metaphor of life. There is another metaphor in the phrase, “time’s irreversible river”. Here, time is compared to a river that flows in a specific direction. It does not change the course backward.
This poem figuratively describes the themes of time, love, life, and death. To bring home her idea, Dorothy uses a rhetorically charged style. She uses various poetic devices to describe how she misses her loved one who is no more. The diction of this poem also includes vivid imagery and sound devices.
This poem seems to be written after the dissolution of her marriage (1984) with Trevor Edmond. Lauris alluded to her husband in this poem. As per the publication dates of her other works, this poem might be published after 1991.
About Lauris Dorothy Edmond
The poem ‘Waterfall,’ is one of the popular poems of the New Zealand poet Laurice Dorothy Edmond. She was born Dannevirke, Hawke’s bay. Edmond wrote poetry throughout her life. She decided to publish her first poetry collection, “‘In Middle Age” in 1975. Some of her famous works include, “The Pear Tree: Poems,” “Salt from the north,” “Hot October,” and last but not least ‘Waterfall’. She was awarded the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for her “Selected Poems” in 1985. In this poem, the speaker incorporates the themes of love, longing, and death.