This poem was written in 1956, shortly after the author’s marriage to Ted Hughes, and published in 1957. ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ is considered as part of Plath’s early poetry and it is often found in anthologies of this stage of her poetry. ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ has a rigid lyrical structure. The rook (“a wet black rook arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain”) is an ordinary bird that lets the lyrical voice explore this idea of “minor light” through natural imagery.
Explore Black Rook in Rainy Weather
Although the poem seems simple at first, the rook is a symbol that lets the lyrical voice explore the significance of the ordinary. Hence, the poem itself is a big metaphor, a series of thoughts, related to a particular view on life. The lyrical voice carefully constructs this metaphor with many poetic devices that emphasize the visual aspect as well as the thoughtful tone found throughout the lines.
Form and Tone
The poem has five-line stanzas with an ABCDE rhyme scheme. At first, this type of rhyme seems like a lack of pattern, but it shows a clear link between the stanzas and through the poem as a unity. The tone of ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ varies through the stanzas as it is rooted in the lyrical voice’s thoughts and meditations. Yet, it can be read as unassuming (“I do not …”), resigned (“Let spotted leaves …”), and contemplative (“spasmodic tricks of radiance”).
The main theme of ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ is the magnificence of the ordinary. The poem has natural imagery and presents a lot of symbolism. The rook is an important symbol throughout the poem. The lyrical voice is captivated by the sight of the rook and then turned into something greater: the possibility of finding beauty in the mundane. Other symbols include the angel (“Of whatever angel any choose to flare”), meaning the epiphany that the lyrical voice has, and the kitchen, the domestic space where beauty can be found.
‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ is similar to the poems in ‘The Colossus‘.’ The Colossus and Other Poems‘ is a poetry collection published in 1960. This was the only volume that was published during Sylvia Plath’s lifetime and it includes poems such as ‘The Beekeeper’s Daughter‘, ‘The Disquieting Muses‘, and ‘I Want, I Want‘. Both ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ and ‘The Colossus’ are poems that have quite rigid structures. Yet, these present Plath’s early use of imagery and portray central themes of her poetry.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident
The first stanza presents the rook. The lyrical voice presents the image of the rook in its natural environment. Notice how it focuses on where the bird stands (“On the stiff twig up there”) and how it looks (“wet black rook”). Moreover, the lyrical voice describes what the bird is doing (“Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain”) from a distant point of view. In the last lines of the stanza, the lyrical voice starts reflecting on the bird as it says “I do not expect a miracle/Or an accident”. This will commence the thoughtful tone that will be developed in the next stanzas.
To set the sight on fire
In my eye, not seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.
The second stanza of ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ furthers on the idea of “miracle” or “accident” presented at the end of the previous lines. The lyrical voice uses the image of fire as a metaphor (“To set the sight on fire”) of the possibility of something unusual happening. Fire, in this and other poems by Sylvia Plath, is a symbol of inspiration. Yet, the lyrical voice sees natural repetitive occurrences (“But let spotted leaves fall as they fall”) that portray the monotone and mundane aspect of life. These events that repeat themselves all the time appear to have no significant meaning: “Without ceremony, or portent”.
Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
The third stanza presents the emergence of a “certain minor light”. The lyrical voice continues to further the thought of the wish of something interrupting the dullness of daily life: “Although, I admit, I desire,/Occasionally, some backtalk/ From the mute sky”. Nonetheless, the lyrical voice doesn’t lose faith as “a certain minor light may still/Leap incandescent”. This means that there is a possibility of something memorable to occur. Again, as in the previous stanza, the possibility of this “minor light” can be read as the apparition of inspiration and it is linked to the image of the fire presented before.
Out of the kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then —
Thus hallowing an interval
The fourth stanza of ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ describes the “minor light” presented in the previous stanza. The lyrical voice furthers on the images associated with this fire that would interrupt the boredom of the everyday. This light would move “Out of the kitchen table or chair/As if a celestial burning took/Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then”. Notice how this light can be continuously linked to the fire mentioned at the beginning of the poem. The lyrical voice emphasizes the descriptions that surround this light and how they can turn into something extraordinary (“Thus hallowing an interval/Otherwise inconsequent”).
By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); sceptical,
Yet politic; ignorant
The fifth stanza continues talking about the “minor light” presented in the third stanza. This light, in its unusualness, “bestowing largenesse, honor,/ One might say love”, would interrupt the everyday. The poem shifts to the first person singular, “I”, to focus on the experience of the lyrical voice and the feelings that surround it. The lyrical voice feels dull, as it says: “I now walk/Wary (for it could happen/Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); sceptical”.
Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant
The sixth stanza of ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ relates the image of a “minor light” with an angel. The lyrical voice introduces a spiritual image (“Of whatever angel may choose to flare”) as another possible element that could interrupt monotony and dullness. Notice how the lyrical voice links the angel to the fire mentioned earlier (“choose to flare”) and the emergence of inspiration (“Suddenly at my elbow”). Nonetheless, the lyrical voice focuses again on the rook: “I only know that a rook”. Again, the movements of the rook are described (“Ordering its black feathers”) because they get the attention of the lyrical voice (“As to seize my senses”).
A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content
The seventh stanza focuses on the thoughts and feelings of the lyrical voice. “A brief respite from fear” appears and shadows the possibility of inspiration and beauty in the mundane presented in the previous lines. The lyrical voice focuses on images of emotional exhaustion (“Trekking stubborn through this season/Of fatigue”), as a tone of despair becomes more prominent. Thus, the possibility of interrupting the dullness of everyday life disappears.
Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel.
For that rare, random descent.
The final stanza of ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ takes up the idea of a miracle presented at the beginning of the poem. In the first stanza, the lyrical voice says “I do not expect a miracle” and here it mentions how “Miracles occur” and continues to describe miracles as “those spasmodic/Tricks of radiance”. These “tricks of radiance” are the images presented throughout the stanzas (e.g. the rook, the minor light, the angel). Again, the lyrical voice emphasizes how these small and insignificant elements could emerge as forms of inspiration and beauty of the everyday. So, the lyrical voice mentions how the wait has begun to see the angel again, meaning these images of inspiration that were mentioned before, and its “rare, random descent”. Notice how the lyrical voice emphasizes once again the extraordinary aspect of this type of apparition.
You can find the analyses of poems of The Colossus and Other Poems here: