R Ruth Pitter

Stormcock in Elder by Ruth Pitter

‘Stormcock in Elder’ by Ruth Pitter is a seven stanza poem that is separated into sets of six lines, or sestets. Each of these sestets follows a specific and structured rhyme scheme. The lines follow a pattern of ababcc, alternating stanza to stanza as the poet saw fit. 

The repetitive, and somewhat simple nature, of this rhyming pattern, imbues the poem with a sense of unity and continuity. By the time one gets to the second stanza, one should be able to predict the upcoming rhymes. This structure also helps to keep the narrative on track. There are no moments in which the story goes off-topic or away from the main subject of the “stormcock.” 

Another point that a reader should take note of is the definition of the word “stormcock.” It is a less common word used to refer to a mistle thrush (a bird that is easily found across Europe, Asia, and North Africa).  

Stormcock in Elder by Ruth Pitter

 

Summary

Stormcock in Elder’ by Ruth Pitter describes the nature of a mistle thrush that sings in close proximity to a speaker.

The poem begins with the speaker stating that she is within her “hermitage,” looking along a shelf for bread, when she hears the sound of a bird singing. She goes to investigate and sees the stormcock, or mistle thrush, alongside her dilapidated home. It does not notice her. 

She spends the next stanzas describing what the bird looks like in great detail. The speaker takes note of everything from the eyes, to the throat and tail feathers. 

In the last lines, she promotes a life of optimism. One should attempt to live as the mistle thrush does, singing out even in February. 

You can read the full poem here.

 

Analysis of Stormcock in Elder 

Stanza One

In my dark hermitage, aloof
From the world’s sight and the world’s sound,
(…)
I groped along the shelf for bread
But found celestial food instead:

In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by stating that she is alone in her “dark hermitage,” or small dwelling. This is a strange situation for a speaker to be in and may raise a number of questions among readers. All that one is aware of at this point is that she is “aloof,” or hidden…

 From the world’s sight and the world’s sound, 

She has placed herself in this position, or made her home in this particular spot, in an effort to hide from the world. The speaker does not want to be a part of it. In the next lines, she describes how she was moving along her hovel near the “small door” along the roof, looking “along the shelf for bread.” 

Instead of finding bread she comes upon “celestial food instead.” This is the first reference in ‘Stormcock in Elder’ to another body or force at work. She has stumbled upon something which is outside her confined world. 

 

Stanza Two

For suddenly close at my ear,
Loud, loud and wild, with wintry glee,
(…)
And through the broken roof I spied
Him by his singing glorified.

In the sound stanza the speaker clarifies, at least somewhat, what it is she has found. The first thing she describes is a noise “close at [her] ear.” It is “loud and wild” and seemingly filled with “wintry glee.” 

The noise is a shock to her ears, but not an unpleasant one. She refers to the singer of the song as being an “old unfailing chorister.” It is someone, or something, which is used to singing. It has honed its craft over many years but still cannot resist breaking “out in pride of poetry.” 

From her spot in the roof of the structure the speaker can see “Him.” He is “glorified” by his singing. 

 

Stanza Three

Scarcely an arm’s-length from the eye,
Myself unseen, I saw him there;
(…)
The polished bill that opened wide
And showed the pointed tongue inside;

In the third stanza of ‘Stormcock in Elder’, the speaker describes how the source of the sound, which the reader will understand as a bird, is “an arm’s-length from [her] eye.” While she might be extremely close to the bird it has yet to see her. 

She is so close that she can see his “throbbing throat” and knows that it is the source of his “cry.” The speaker is also able to see the bird’s
“breast” and how it is covered in “dew from the misty air,” as well as the “pointed tongue” inside its mouth.

 

Stanza Four

The large eye, ringed with many a ray
Of minion feathers, finely laid,
(…)
The scale, the sinew, and the claw,
Plain through the broken roof I saw;

The speaker continues her description of the bird in the fourth stanza. She begins by focusing on the “large eye” which is…

ringed with many a ray 

Of minion feathers. 

She is noticing the complexity of the bird’s coloring and feather patterns. They are “finely laid.” She also takes note of the “feet” and their ability to “grasp the elder-spray” on which he is perching. The poet uses the rhyme scheme to great effect in these lines when she writes, “The scale, the sinew, and the claw.” 

 

Stanza Five

The flight-feathers in tail and wing,
(…)
Of silver, like a brindled flower.

The fifth stanza is the final which focuses heavily on depicting the bird. She concludes her description by speaking on the way the bird’s colors are all distinctive but eventually “Merge into russet.” The bird seems to sport…

Gold sequins, spots of chestnut, shower 

Of silver, like a brindled flower. 

It is not a simple stormcock any longer. It is so much more beautiful and complex.

 

Stanza Six

Soldier of fortune, northwest Jack,
(…)
Like a rich merchant at a feast.

In the sixth stanza the speaker departs from her description of the bird to speak on its larger impact on the world. She completes this task by first comparing the bird’s jovial nature to “northwest Jack.” This person is described as being a “Soldier of fortune.” 

Just like the bird, he does well and makes “so brave a show” in the coldest months of the year. He, and the mistle thrush singing so close to the speaker’s face, are like “rich merchant[s] at a feast.” 

 

Stanza Seven

One-half the world, or so they say,
Knows not how half the world may live;
(…)
As bright as Gabriel to smile
On elder-spray by broken tile.

In the final stanza of ‘Stormcock in Elder’, the speaker concludes her narrative on a more somber note. Up until this point she has been celebrating the beauty and resilience of the bird. She spent time on each part of its body, making sure the reader understood how important it is to her, and should be to any who hears her words. 

In these last lines, she speaks on one’s inability to know all parts of the world. This is in an effort to interest a reader in the fact that many more will never know the mistle thrush than do. The speaker has spent her time glorifying the bird, but time will move on and these thoughts will be forgotten. 

She speaks to the reader and asks that “you” go ahead and “sing your song” and then go about your life. The speaker hopes that reading these lines will take some of the resilience and optimism of the stormcock into the future colder months. 

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analysing poetry on Poem Analysis.
    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Or to quote Brooklyn 99 – Noice!

        • Lee-James Bovey says:

          I had to check with my younger-than-me girlfriend that this was a compliment and not a threat. She’s like a translator.

  • Stormcock ‘in’ Elder, right?

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      correct, nice spot. Edited.

  • Atiya Bokhary says:

    Comprehensive analysis! You pointed out that the poet seems to have isolated herself from the world and is hiding in this hovel. By looking and listening to the stormcock’s song, she gets a message of hope and strength. Instead of moping in a corner, we need to face the situation boldly and ‘sing our song’. The stormcock manages to remain plump and at his best even in the cold months, flaunting his finery of feathers and singing his beautiful song.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you for your lovely, thoughtful feedback. You write very eloquently and we always appreciate a “pat on the back”.

        • Lee-James Bovey says:

          In the words of Frank Turner “I won’t sit down, I won’t shut up”. But thanks for your comment. Without them, I wouldn’t get paid.

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