‘Stormcock in Elder’ by Ruth Pitter is a seven stanza poem which is separated into sets of six lines, or sestets. Each of these sestets follows a specific and structured rhyme scheme. The lines follow a patter 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 which is easily found across Europe, Asia and North Africa). You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Stormcock the Elder
‘Stormcock in Elder’ by Ruth Pitter describes the nature of a mistle thrush which 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.
Analysis of Stormcock in Elder
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 the poem to another body or force at work. She has stumbled upon something which is outside her confined world.
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.
In the third stanza 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.
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 colouring 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.”
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.
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.”
In the final stanza 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 any reading these lines will take some of the resilience and optimism of the stormcock into the future colder months.