Elizabeth Jennings is a well-known British poet whose work has been critically acclaimed throughout her career. Jennings mainly wrote traditional verse form and used a simple and clear form of writing. In her book ‘Poetry Today’ she wrote “When the most valuable quality that poets share: are clarity and honesty, it is not very to find those poets developing away from the group”.
Thus, the strong points of the poet are: her strong logic, emotional sensitivity and a simple, clear diction devoid of any decorations. Her Catholic Faith had deeply influenced her poetry and with the passage of time as her faith deepened and stabilized it consequently affected her work. Jennings always favoured formally structured poems that instead of delivering any morals prompted the reader to observe and deduct.
In her earlier works she mostly wrote in regular meter, rhyme and Lambic pattern but later on she mainly used free verse and unrhymed poetry. Though never being an autobiographical poet Jennings mostly wrote about personal problems and we see this trait in her poem Song for a Departure.
Song for a Departure Analysis
The poem, Song for a Departure, talks about the departure of soul though it has not been named here. In the above lines, we find poet addressing someone and requesting it (which could possibly be an address to Death) to come like no one has come. She expects it to come quietly without leaving behind any signs so that when it leaves there would be no change anywhere. The poet further says that it should come quickly, and have quick words with us, but yet appear to be cool and calm. If this song is talking about the departure of human when it leaves this world, the meaning of us suggests the entire human race.
As discussed above, another aspect of this first stanza could also be related to the loss of something or someone in our lives. It is natural that we hardly value anything when it’s present in our lives, be it a person or our worldly possessions. But when that thing or person is not around us or in our lives we start feeling their importance and value. Here we find the poet deeply compassionate towards the human emotions. Even the very title of the poem itself suggests that it means bidding adieu to someone you have loved most in your life.
In these lines again we see the poet telling the unknown visitor (here most probably either the soul of her near and dear ones, or the Yamraj, (according to Hindu mythology who comes to take all us after our death) to go in the same way, quietly and quickly. With the visitor’s departure there should be no signs or changes that tell of his/her going. But though this all happened in the past we see that its memory has made a lasting impression and has registered deeply in the poet’s conscience.
Keeping in mind the deeply religious leanings of the poet towards her Catholic faith and its influence on her work, here she can be also interpreted as giving us this message that our tenure in this world is temporary. Death is the ultimate reality of life and there’s a day for everyone to leave this world. We should not attach any real meaning to this world and its belongings but look upon it as something temporary. We all have to go one day and only death is something which is inevitable, this is the stark and harsh reality of life.
In this last stanza of the poem, we can see a reflection of the poet’s deeply sensitive nature and her minute observation of the human sufferings. The poet says that sometimes even a small incident; no matter how much insignificant or minute it appears to the world, can leave a lasting impression on your mind. And then no matter how much you try to avoid them these thoughts never leave you. They keep on recurring until there’s no respite from them. They will turn you into a bitter and melancholy person so much so that when you leave this world, this effect will linger behind you.
In her life, there was a time when Elizabeth Jennings had to be treated for a mental illness and in these lines we see a reflection of that time. However, it is also at the same time important to know that the poet has lost many of her near and dear ones. The poet herself says that whoever she loved most was snatched away by God.
Thus, the poem, Song for a Departure, is dedicated to the souls who once used to live with the poet, but now has left her for always. Through this poem, the poet also gives tribute to the dead souls, and expects them, as per her Catholic belief, to meet her again.
Biographical Information about Elizabeth Jennings
Elizabeth Jennings was born in Boston, Lincolnshire. Died in 2001, Jennings, having completed her graduation from Oxford University, first worked as an Assistant Librarian at Oxford City Library and then as a reader for the London Publisher Chatto & Windus and finally she became a full-time writer for the rest of her life.
She started her career in poetry writing at the very early stage after having being encouraged by one of her schoolteachers as well as by an uncle, who himself was a poet. She wrote her earlier poetries on being inspired by Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, G. K. Chesterton’s “Battle of Lepanto”, and then the odes of Keats.
Afterward, Jennings was greatly influenced by the poetries of Edwin Muir and Robert Frost. In most of Jennings’s poems, there have been strong logic, emotional sensitivity, and an avoidance of decoration, an absence of vagueness and an eschewing of any mystification.
She had always taken care of the use of rhyme and meter when it comes to the form of poetry. Her use of words and sentence structure in the poem are very easy to understand. All her poems were simple and without literary decoration and pretentiousness in literature.