‘Letters From Yorkshire’ talks about the values of relationships in our lives and how we can make it last for long if we are truly and heartily connected. However, to present this relationship, the poet has used the mode of letter writing that the two characters exchange with each other to express their joy and sorrow.
Apart from the human relationship, this poem also differentiates between urban life (where the poet lives right now) and rural life (where the letter writer has been living). With their place of living, the poet, as a speaker, compares the natural surroundings of the rural (where the letter writer lives) and urban (where the poet herself lives).
Reading through the poem, it becomes quite clear that they (speaker and the letter writer) both have close relationships and may even go on sharing letters to express their feelings. The poet, at the end of the first stanza, makes it clear that this relationship ‘is not romance.’ So, this poem doesn’t have romance. Rather it describes the relationship that two people develop in spite of their miles distance.
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Summary of Letters From Yorkshire
In ‘Letters From Yorkshire,’ the speaker imagines the man’s way of life in the lap of nature and appreciates it by valuing his proximity to nature. Just as the poet has presented these two characters, it seems as if they both have been very close to each other. The man might be continuously writing letters to her and talks even about the little development in his life, such as returning of the ‘first lapwings,’ which is an indication of spring season coming.
However, from start to end, there hasn’t been anything that could reveal how they both know each other and how they both relate to each other. It is only our guesses we make seeing the letters sharing between both of them that make us believe that they have some relation with each other. In conclusion, the poet wishes to have a life-like letter-writing man in the poem, and therefore she regards it as romantic and fulfilling.
You can read the full poem here.
Themes in Letters From Yorkshire
Maura Dooley orbits around the themes of Love, Longing, Distance, and Nature. It is a very touching poem, highlighting the relationship between two human beings who live miles away from each other but are connected by their souls.
As I already mentioned above that this poem shows the power of words written in a letter, and these words are what express the true feelings of a writer. But alas, letter-writing has now been replaced by email-writing that doesn’t have the feeling that a hand-written letter can express.Though the poet herself says that she is “feeding words onto a blank screen,” she truly finds pleasure and enjoyment through these words, especially the greater moments she has shared with her friend, in spite of being miles away from him.
Structure and Form of Letters From Yorkshire
From the structure point of view, the poem has five unrhymed tercets. The irregular rhyme and enjambment, and rhythm hint at a flow of immediate and continual thought, in addition to denoting the flow of the seasons and nature. The end-stopped lines bring about moments of deeper reflection and question her own choices in life.
Literary Devices in Letters From Yorkshire
Dooley makes use of several literary devices in ‘Letters From Yorkshire.’ These include but are not limited to imagery, caesura, and enjambment. The first of these, imagery, is an important literary technique in all poems, short stories, and novels. Authors seek to depict interesting and memorable images in order to engage their reader’s imaginations. For example, these lines from stanzas one and two: “his knuckles singing / as they reddened in the warmth” and these phrases from lines one and two of the fourth stanza, “breaking ice on a waterbutt, / clearing a path through the snow.”
Caesurae are pauses in the middle of lines, ones that are created either through punctuation or through a natural pause in the meter. For example, line three of the second stanza reads: “You out there, in the cold, seeing the seasons.” Or, another good example, line two of the fourth stanza. It reads: “clearing a path through the snow. Still, it’s you.”
Enjambment is a common literary device that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza as well as lines one and two of the fifth stanza.
Letters From Yorkshire Analysis
In February, digging his garden, planting potatoes,(…)indoors to write to me, his knuckles singing
In the very first stanza of this poem, the poet introduces us to the two main characters– the speaker and the man. Where in the first line, the man is shown digging his garden and planting potatoes, the poet, in the third stanza, is depicted as writing something in response to the letters she has received from the man. However, at this stage also, we (readers) are not told anything about the relationship between these two characters of the poem. The speaker is very curious to know about the other world (as she regards it) of the man whom she imagines living in the lap of nature and enjoying his life to the fullest.
Describing the state of mind of the man, the poet shows how delighted the man is after having seen the first lapwings in his garden. He becomes so excited and joyous to see the first lapwings (a type of bird usually found on farmland) that he immediately ruses to his room and tells about this little development in his life. This delight and happiness of the man are best presented by words like his knuckles singing.
Here the use of caesura shifts the focus from his ordinary actions to personifications. This personification depicts the delight the man experiences after having seen ‘the first lapwings return,’ that is, returning birds, meaning that the spring season is just around the corner though the February landscape is still wintry, and the man is very excited to share his this feeling with her.
as they reddened in the warmth.(…)You out there, in the cold, seeing the seasons
The above three lines of the second stanza, though all stanzas of the poem have three lines, reveals the mystery of the ‘romance’ word used in the poem here. The poet here says that if she shares letters with her distant relative, it is not necessary that she has some romantic feelings towards the man. Rather it is a feeling of closeness and compassion that they both have towards each other and like to share it when there is some new development in their lives. The speaker says their romance is with nature and their feelings towards it.
In other words, while the speaker may romanticize this man’s life because he lives in the lap of nature that even she misses too much by living miles away from Yorkshire where she used to live earlier, for him (the man), it is nothing but reality. This also suggests the description of their relationship.
When the speaker says: You out there, with the use of these monosyllabic words, she means the man’s simple way of life that he is living in Yorkshire. Moreover, the last word of the last line of this stanza, that is, ‘seasons,’ indicates the changing seasons.
So, this poem doesn’t have romance. Rather it describes the relationship that two people can develop even if they are living miles away from each other. That way, if stanza one describes “his” world and his reaching out to her to narrate what’s going on in his life, stanza second tells us a little about their relationship with each other and concludes it with the account of his life, shifting to ‘you’ (second-person address) and getting more personal: “you out there, in the cold, seeing the seasons/turning.”
turning, me with my heartful of headlines(…)Is your life more real because you dig and sow?
In this stanza, the poet (speaker) expresses his sorrow towards the saddened state of the man. Though she first misses the natural life he is living in Yorkshire. Later she becomes very sad, imagining how he digs and sows. Through these three lines, the poet has also tried to draw out the pitiable conditions of those who dig lands and sows into them. And ‘feeding those words onto a blank screen, she asks: is your life more real because you dig and sow? The use of alliteration in this stanza shows the struggle of the poet who fights with his natural feelings, that is, ‘heart’ or doing the rational, sensible thing, that is, the ‘head.’
And when the poet says: ‘Heartful,’ she means to show the dismayed state of the speaker caused by news reports. She (speaker) likens this to the man’s physical work, such as digging, breaking the ice, clearing snow. Here the speaker wonders if his life is ‘more real’ due to his closeness with the land and leaves this stanza with a question.
The use of words like ‘blank screen’ indicates towards the computer that shows the contrast between their professions and lifestyle. Where the contrast in a computer shows the liveliness, likewise ‘blank screen’ suggests towards empty and lifeless life compared to his ‘ knuckles singing’ in the very first stanza of this poem. Moreover, the enjambment indicates the changing seasons.
The poet has also used figurative language (feeding words) that brings about a contrast between her feeding people with his potatoes. Her actions seem artificial compared to his experiences of nature.
You wouldn’t say so, breaking ice on a waterbutt,(…)who sends me word of that other world
Through this stanza, the poet portrays the relationship of the man with nature, and in the first line of this stanza, by ‘breaking ice,’ the poet describes the mundane and physical tasks that show how he sees his life as ordinary but also echoes his connection with nature.
In the second line of this fourth stanza, when the speaker says: by ‘clearing a path, she means that the man is ‘clearing a path through the snow.’ With the use of the word ‘snow,’ the poet also makes use of caesura whereby he introduces a contrasting perspective on his lifestyle – he would not say that there is anything special about his, but the narrator thinks there is because the latter believes his life in the city is far from Nature, and the life the man is living in the lap of nature is far better than the speaker.
In the third line of this stanza, the use of assonance and alliteration makes these words sound similar, but they are also different – this echoes how his words make the speaker feel closer to his world, but also brings to her mind that she is far away from it.
pouring air and light into an envelope. So that(…)our souls tap out messages across the icy miles.
While she longs for and desires to be in his world and the ‘air and light’ which floods his letters, they all show that both the characters (speaker and the letter writer) have a profound connection irrespective of the miles of distance. It is only their close connection with each other that makes their ‘souls’ tap out messages across miles. The words ‘pouring air and light’ means he writes to her about his day-to-day life, and she romanticizes it by giving its description in the terms like ‘air and light,’ which is certainly a magical description.
And when the poet says: ‘watching the same news in different houses, she means that their lives are not so different – the experiences that she shares with each other make her feel closer to him. In the last line of this stanza, the poet becomes spiritual when she says: ‘our souls’, which suggests that they both are having a meaningful and deep connection with each other.
In the very last line, when the poet says: ‘the icy miles,’ she means that she doesn’t like living so far away from him, but the communication they make through their letters bring them together, no matter how far-flung they are from each other.
Moreover, the use of ‘So that’ creates curiosity in the minds of the readers, led by a caesura that brings more into the light. The “so that” means “in order that” or “because of this,” and with the use of this phrase, she may mean unusual, strange, and even unfinished.
The poem ends with a similar image of winter, the icy weather, which we find all through the poem, from his knuckles red from the cold, being “out there, in the cold,” “breaking ice on a waterbutt,/ clearing a path through the snow.”
In all the warmth of their relationship, they share with each other through their letters. Writing really touches readers like me. Letters the man writes to her sharing any little development give her “air and light.”
Readers who enjoyed ‘Letters From Yorkshire’ should also consider reading. some related poems. For example:
- ‘A Dreaming Week‘ by Carol Ann Duffy – explores escapism and how writing and provides an outlet in one’s life.
- ‘Love Letter (Clouds)’ by Sarah Manguso – explores the end of relationships and the various emotional responses to these changes.
- ‘Valentine’ by Owen Sheers – uses flashbacks to depict a deteriorating relationship between two people. The poem takes the reader through several different series of memories.
About Maura Dooley
Born in 1957 in Cornwall, Maura Dooley had Irish roots, but grew in Bristol, lived in Yorkshire, and then eventually shifted to London. She is well-known as a successful writer and a teacher. Today there are several collections of her published works that have helped her carve a niche in the poetry world.
Maura is known for often writing reflective and simple poetry, but the images she uses denote complex and deep feelings. And the poem, Letters from Yorkshire, was inspired by letters that she received from a friend, which made her miss Yorkshire.