‘The Seed-Shop’ by Muriel Stuart is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Stuart has chosen to structure this piece with a consistent rhyme scheme. It follows a pattern of abab cdcd efef. While the rhyme scheme is constant, the pattern of rhythm diverges slightly. The majority of the lines contain ten syllables, but a few, such as the first lines of stanza one and two, stretch to eleven.
A reader will also take note of the wide variety of references to different types of plants. It is interesting to consider how familiar one might be with these species. Stuart is assuming readers will understand that “hawthorn” and “ash” refer to trees, but that might not necessarily be the case for everyone.
One of the most important themes of this piece is that of the perseverance of life. A reader can see this theme in the text from the first line to the last. The speaker remarks on the ability of seeds that seem lifeless to grow into something completely imbued with energy and vibrancy. She also describes how her own life will pass, but the flowers she metaphorically intends to plant, will live on long after. They will thrive on her grave and within her dust.
Summary of The Seed-Shop
In the first lines of the piece, the speaker begins by stating that she is in a shop and looking around at the seeds on sale. These seeds do not seem like the beginnings of life or growth. Instead, they are dry and dirty looking. It does not seem as if they could ever grow into anything as grand as a hawthorn or ash tree.
In the following lines, the speaker uses her imagination to envision moments of growth for the seeds. She sees them becoming forests full of thriving trees and lilies which will live longer than she will.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of The Seed-Shop
Here in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by painting a clear and somewhat depressing scene. She is within a room that is described as “quiet” and “dusty.” She isn’t alone though. Without any prior description, she states that there is something else there. This something is “lying” around. These things, a reader will later come to understand as seeds. They are trapped in the confines of the “Seed-Shop.”
The structure in which they are being kept appears as the exact opposite of their purpose. While they seek to stretch, grow, and become something new, the room keeps them in seed form. The speaker is looking around and comparing the small, somewhat neglected seeds, to “Forlorn…ashes,” “shifting sand” and “crumbled stone.” It should not be so easy to relate the seeds to lifeless, dry objects. Stuart is creating this contrast on purpose.
While the speaker is looking through the seeds, she is able to move past the “crumbled” nature of their forms. She picks up handfuls of the seeds and it is as if “Meadows and gardens” are in her hand. The speaker can imagine the potential of these small “ashes.”
In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams;
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.
The speaker continues into the second stanza to lay out a vision for the seeds. In her mind, they are no longer “brown husk[s]” seemingly without life. The seeds burst out and become a “dale” or forest, of “hawthorn dreams.” The hawthorn trees are quite popular, and recognized for their red berries. They grow, in the speaker’s imagination, to their greatest potential.
The second line references a “cedar” tree. It is also able to escape the “narrow cell” of the room and make its way to the outside world. Once there is “thrust[s]” its roots into the ground. The new, growing tree is able to tap into the “century’s streams.” It becomes like other trees, a part of history. Not only does it grow in the present moment of the speaker’s imagination, but into the future.
The lilies in the fourth line function in the same way. She is looking forward now and seeing her own death. On the “dust” of her grave and, eventually, of her body, these flowers will grow. This is a hopeful prediction rather than a depressing one. It pleases the speaker to know that a part of the life she knows will exist after her death.
Here in their safe and simple house of death,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.
In the final stanza, the speaker returns the narrative to the interior of the seed-shop. While the outside world and the growth of the plants is hopeful, the shop is deeply depressing. It is “simple” and “safe,” but these are not the elements the plants need. This creates for them a “house of death.” Just as the seeds are “sealed” indoors, they are “Sealed in their shells.” By trapping the seeds indoors, one is keeping them from reaching their full potential.
The scene is lightened by a return to the speaker’s imagined future for the seeds. She can see roses in the “million[s]…leap[ing]” from the shells. They are longing to break out of their confines and find a way to root in the earth.
In the final lines she increases the dream-like qualities of this piece by stating that “Here” in the shop, she is able to “blow a garden with” her breath. It amazes her how easily she can come into contact with such a variety of species. The world of plants and an entire “forest” sleeps in the shop, waiting for someone to set it free.