‘Squall’ by Leonora Speyer is a free verse, four stanza poem which is made up of sets of irregularly numbered lines. The first stanza contains six lines, the second: two, the third: three, and the fourth: six. Additionally, the lines are very uneven in the lengths, with the shortest contains one word, and the longest, eight.
A reader might also notice that the lines of the poem decrease in length as it progresses. The first line is the longest and the last is the shortest.
The poem begins with the speaker describing how the storm “sweeps” across the hills like a “gray-winged” bird. It is beautiful and graceful as well as destructive and deadly. The speaker states that the storm begins with a “clamor” in the woods and a steady pouring of rain. This suddenly progresses to an enormous clap of thunder. There are bolts of lightning which “tear” across the sky.
The heaviest rain follows the thunder, drenching the battered landscape. Then, in the last section of this piece the storm abates and a small amount of light returns to the sky. The radical shift in the summer weather feels like a “forgiveness.” It is as if the sky is making peace with the world below.
Analysis of Squall
The squall sweeps gray-winged across the obliterated hills,
And the startled lake seems to run before it;
From the wood comes a clamor of leaves,
Tugging at the twigs,
Pouring from the branches,
And suddenly the birds are still.
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by delving into a deep and poignant description of the “squall.” This word is a less common word used to describe a violent storm. It is usually characterized by large gusts of wind and hard rain over a limited area.
This squall in particular, which is “sweep[ing]” over the speaker’s landscape is described in sublime terms. It is both terrifying and beautiful. She is able to see the storm, recognize it is dangerous and something to be feared, but also appreciate it for its power and impressive beauty.
In the first line, the storm is described in contrasting terms. It is “grey-winged” like a bird, a notion which evokes thoughts of peace and quiet, but it is traveling over “the obliterated hills.” This juxtaposition is the perfect example of the sublimity of the “squall.”
In the next lines, the speaker makes great use of personification. This technique has been used in an effort to accurately portray the fear great storms inspire. It also allows a reader to empathize with the environment. These human descriptions help one to connect with the world.
The storm is so powerful, and its winds so strong that the “startled lake” beneath the heart of the squall “seems to run before it.” There is “clamor[ing]” in the leaves of the woods as animals run to safety and the trees prepare for the onslaught. The “twigs” are being “Tugg[ed] at” and the rain is “Pouring from the branches” along with the leaves and sticks which have been torn loose.
The final line of this stanza describes the moment right before the strongest part of the storm hits. The birds know what is coming and they fall quiet in preparation.
Thunder crumples the sky,
Lightning tears at it.
In the second stanza, the speaker describes the first moments of the storm. This stanza only contains two lines. This separates these images from the rest of the poem and forces a reader to put more emphasis on them. This is the power of the storm being told through a powerful arrangement of the poem.
First, there is the “Thunder” which is so overwhelming the sky seems to “crumple” under its strength. Second, there is the “Lightening” which continues to terrorize the sky, “tear[ing]” a hole in it.
And now the rain!
The wind, reveling in the confusion of great pines!
In the third stanza, which only contains three lines, the speaker draws attention to the rain. It comes after the initial bursts of thunder and lightning and is the element of the storm which is the most destructive to the “clamor[ing]” woods below it.
The first line of this section is very much to the point, there is “now the rain!” It comes all of a sudden— as if from nowhere. It pours down from the sky, “thudding” against the trees, buildings, and ground. The speaker describes it as being “implacable.” There is no way for it to be stopped or satisfied. It will continue until it decides it is time to stop.
The next element which is described is the “wind” which is gusting through the “great pines.” It seems to relish the fact that it is causing such “confusion.” The squall seems, at least from the speaker’s perspective, to be malevolent. It wants to cause as much damage, distress, and fear as it possibly can.
And a silver sifting of light,
A sense of summer anger passing,
Of summer gentleness creeping nearer—
In the final stanza of the poem, the storm comes to its conclusion. It eventually wears itself out and the world returns to normal.
In the first lines, the speaker describes how there is a “sifting of light” from the sky. Things are beginning to shift, signaling the end of the squall. As with every other element thus far described, the change comes suddenly. There is no warning or signal that the end is near, the light just breaks through the clouds.
After the light comes “A coolness.” The humidity brought on by the storm is breaking and the temperature drops dramatically. The “anger” of this “summer” storm is passing. It was brief and violent, but not long-lived. Now the speaker sees a “gentleness” coming on. It too is an element of summer and it is “creeping nearer” to the landscape.
The final lines describe how the renewed “gentleness” brings with it a “tearful” forgiveness. The sky is “Penitent” and now shining down the warmth and light of summer.