‘Armistice’ by Sophie Jewett is a three-stanza poem that is separated into six-line stanzas. The poem sustains a rhyme scheme of ababcc throughout, transitioning from stanza to stanza depending on the poet’s word choice. The speaker has chosen this “back and forth” pattern of rhyme to mimic the swaying of the ship. It is without shocks or surprises, allowing the reader their own moment of contemplation.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that she is on a ship, in a moment of romantic travel. The wind and water are gracefully embracing the ship, singing, and whispering as they move. She travels with a companion, one whose presence makes her feel infinitely safe. There is total and complete security in his company. “Love” is quite near to them, and “strife” is way in the past.
The rest of the poem thrusts the traveler into a moment of magic in which they are entranced by the movements of the birds dipping, and the water splashing. They have found a time to transcend the brutality of life, and fully consider the beauty of the place they are existing in. The poem encourages a time of separation from war and future troubles.
Analysis of Armistice
The water sings along our keel,
The wind falls to a whispering breath;
I look into your eyes and feel
No fear of life or death;
So near is love, so far away
The losing strife of yesterday.
The poem begins with the speaker introducing the environment in which she is located. It never becomes completely clear where exactly she is, but one is able to interpret from the text that she is on a ship, in the ocean somewhere. Further context will be given as the poem progresses but the speaker’s general situation is clear by the end of the first stanza. In relation to the theme of and meaning of the poem, a situational context is not important.
The first line describes how the “water” that surrounds the ship on which the speaker is traveling is splashing against its “keel,” or the portion of the ship that holds the hull together. The water is not described as being violent or overly powerful, instead, it is “sing[ing]” as it moves. This initial description makes it seem as if the voyage is more romantic than distressing or exhausting. The second line continues developing the romantic environment in which the speaker is existing.
She describes the wind as “fall[ing]” from its high pitch to a “whispering breath.” This creates a moment of intimacy within the confines of the ship for the speaker, and as the third line reveals, one that is shared with her lover.
The rest of poem is directed to, and about, the significant other with whom she is traveling. This person is right beside her as she speaks and recalls what it is about this person that makes her feel safe and comforted on this journey. She looks “into [his] eyes” and feels nothing but security. He is there to reassure her that she is safe, even though she is physically in a quite perilous situation. She does not feel any fear of “life or death,” instead, it is replaced by “love.” This love that exists between the two of them is “So near,” especially in comparison to the “losing strife of yesterday” which seems to be “so far away.”
We watch the swallow skim and dip;
Some magic bids the world be still;
Life stands with finger upon lip;
Love hath his gentle will;
Though hearts have bled, and tears have burned,
The river floweth unconcerned.
The second stanza continues the intimate and romantic description of the voyage that the speaker and her companion are on. While they are spending their days on the ship, they “watch the swallows” that are flying around the vessel. They appear to be dancing through the air. There is a “magic” in the birds, and in the rest of the world, that is wholly original to their situation.
They are entranced by the “skim[ming] and dip[ping]” that the birds engage in, and are taken from the physical moment they are in, to one that is transcendent in nature. They speak of the “magic” that makes the “world be still.” Everything freezes for moments upon moments as the two travelers move through the ocean. It is not a natural occurrence, it is spiritual in nature.
It is as if “Life” is standing still “with [a] finger upon lip.” The world is asking those within it, at least those that are paying attention, to pause for a moment and consider where they are and what they are seeing. It gently encourages those who are moving so swiftly through the world to slow down and truly look at what surrounds them. The poem continues to describe how it is “Love” that is “gentl[y]” pushing the travelers to truly see the “magic” of life.
The final two lines of this section state that even though the world has “bled,” hearts have suffered, and many have cried burning “tears,” the “river” flows on unimpeded. The ocean continues its movement, and all the bodies of water that are moving across the surface of the earth are “unconcerned” by the choices and emotions experienced by humans. No matter what one may feel in a moment, it should be comforting to know that the world remains strong.
We pray the fickle flag of truce
Still float deceitfully and fair;
Our eyes must love its sweet abuse;
This hour we will not care,
Though just beyond to-morrow’s gate,
Arrayed and strong, the battle wait.
In the final stanza of “Armistice” the speaker states that although humankind has gotten itself into an endless number of horrifying and tragic situations, within wars and personal skirmishes, the travelers have this moment of peace.
The two, the speaker states, are going to “pray” that the “flag of truce” which is said to be “fickle” and changeable, continue to exist. Even when it is abused and trod upon, it still continues on. There is always the possibility of peace in the future, even when the present moment is it is suffering.
One must push through these awful situations and use these moments of magic to “not care” about the state of the world. No one should be writing the world off, or ignoring the troubles that exist, but this poem encourages a singular moment of peace and contemplation of “magic.”
The final lines conclude the poem and state how the “battle” is waiting in the future, and for this time, it is still distant. It is “Through” and “beyond to-morrow’s gate.” The travelers are able to put off worrying about the future for just a little bit longer.