Leave him now Quiet by the Way

Trumbull Stickney

‘Leave him now Quiet by the Way’ by Trumbull Stickney is a complex poem that imparts a deeply devastating revelation about another man’s despair.


Trumbull Stickney

Nationality: American

Trumbull Stickney was a Swiss poet born in 1875.

He died at a young age, but his unique poetry helped to inspire a generation of writers.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Existential despair can only be remedied by rest.

Speaker: An empathetic person.

Emotions Evoked: Compassion, Depression, Hopelessness

Poetic Form: Dramatic Monologue

Time Period: 20th Century

Trumbull Stickney's poem offers a compelling vision of another man's perceived existential crisis. One that dually uplifts with keen empathy and demoralizes in uncovering the source of the man's tragic mood.

‘Leave him now Quiet by the Way’ is a powerfully moving poem written by the young poet Trumbull Stickney. Even just a surface-level understanding imparts an acute articulation of the paralytic effect fear can have on an individual.

But all three stanzas are also nested by an ambiguity — made alluring by the poet’s mastery of imagery and figurative language — that inspires both existential empathy and dread. The result is a poem that grips you with its speaker’s elusively significant and emphatic assumptions as they try to explain the afflictions of a man whose hit evidently hit rock bottom.

Leave him now Quiet by the Way
Trumbull Stickney

Leave him now quiet by the wayTo rest apart.I know what draws him to the dust alwayAnd churns him in the builder’s lime:He has the fright of time.

I heard it knocking in his breastA minute since;His human eyes did wince,He stubborned like the massive slaughter beastAnd as a thing o’erwhelmed with soundStood bolted to the ground.

Leave him, for rest alone can cure—If cure there be—This waif upon the sea.He is of those who slanted the great doorAnd listened—wretched little lad—To what they said.


‘Leave him now Quiet by the Way’ by Trumbull Stickney is a poignant poem about an unknown man resting alongside the road which is then observed by the speaker.

‘Leave him now Quiet by the Way’ unfolds as a monologue by the speaker, the subject of which is a stranger they see resting nearby. “Leave him now quiet by the / To rest apart,” they command earnestly. The speaker defends the man because of their keen sense of empathy: “I know what draws him to the dust alway.” They then declare that the man possesses a “fright of time,” which has left him broken and immobilized. Much like a beast drawn to slaughter, it will refuse to go forward, knowing what awaits.

The final stanza continues to advocate for the stranger, who has still not stirred and remains silent where they lay. The speaker admits that if a cure for such an affliction exists, it is “rest alone” and bids once more for people to leave him be. The last three lines offer another insight into the perceived cause of the stranger’s intense depression. Ominously explaining that he is of a group of people who have gleaned secret knowledge and have succumbed to the consequences.

Structure and Form

‘Leave him now Quiet by the Way’ is composed of three stanzas: the first has five lines while the second and third contain six. There is no defined rhyme scheme, but several lines contain end rhymes: ‘ABACC DEEDFF GHHIJK’. This mirrors the speaker’s empathetic and pitying monologue with a euphonious cadence. While the poem’s final lines, which lack rhyme and contain a fragmenting use of hyphens, create a discordance that similarly reflects the speaker’s lamentable tone.

Literary Devices

‘Leave him now Quiet by the Way’ contains a number of different types of imagery and also examples of figurative language:

  • Visual imagery: “Leave him now quiet by the way / To rest apart” (1-2); “His human eyes did wince” (8).
  • Auditory imagery: “I heard it knocking in his breast” (6).
  • Metaphor: “I know what draws him to the dust alway / And churns him in the builder’s lime” (3); “This waif upon the sea” (14); “He is of those who slanted the great door / And listened—wretched little lad— / To what they said” (15-17).
  • Simile: “He stubborned like the massive slaughter beast / And as a thing o’erwhelmed with sound / Stood bolted to the ground” (8-10).

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Leave him now quiet by the way
To rest apart.
I know what draws him to the dust alway
And churns him in the builder’s lime:
He has the fright of time.

‘Leave him now Quiet by the Way’ begins with the speaker issuing a command to leave someone alone. Although vague, the ambiguity still strives to create via omission a visual image of a solitary stranger resting somewhere “apart” (2) from others. The speaker immediately establishes empathy with this person and alludes to knowing “what draws him to the dust alway” (3).

In other words, they claim to understand the reason the man is on the ground and can even perceive he is often in this downtrodden state. The speaker ends the stanza by disclosing the source of the stranger’s condition: “He has the fright of time” (5). This may imply anything from a fear of death to wasting away one’s life, and the exact nature of this fear of time remains obscured until later in the poem.

Stanza Two

I heard it knocking in his breast
A minute since;
His human eyes did wince,
He stubborned like the massive slaughter beast
And as a thing o’erwhelmed with sound
Stood bolted to the ground.

In the second stanza of ‘Leave him now Quiet by the Way’, the speaker continues to monologue about the man’s hapless state. They describe via auditory imagery how they can actually hear the fear of time “knocking in his breast” (6) and describe the way his “human eyes did wince” (8) because of it.

Then the speaker compares the stranger through simile to a “massive slaughter beast” (9) that obstinately refuses to go move forward because it knows what awaits it (i.e., death). Stickney underscores that bleak image with further diction that characterize the man’s “stubborned” (9) nature not as aggressively defiant but as a paralyzing fear: “o’erwhelmed with sound / Stood bolted to the ground” (10-11). The implication is that the man is still locked in this state of debilitated despair.

Stanza Three

Leave him, for rest alone can cure—
If cure there be—
This waif upon the sea.
He is of those who slanted the great door
And listened—wretched little lad—
To what they said.

The last stanza of ‘Leave him now Quiet by the Way’ begins with the speaker reiterating that we should leave the man be. Their reason for this demand is the belief that “rest alone can cure— / If cure there be—” (12-13). A more endearing metaphor for the man is then offered, one that somewhat idealizes them as a lonely “waif upon the sea” (14). Here the speaker’s tone appears somewhat hopeful about the man’s fate.

Yet the poem’s final three lines are its most ambiguous and foreboding. They also serve to illustrate the speaker’s believed source of the man’s crisis. To them, “he is of those who slanted the great door / And listened” (15-16), a metaphor that implies they see the man as a bearer of some hidden knowledge that has left them spiritually defeated.

Stickney doesn’t allow the speaker to clarify this oddly specific vision, but the power of it is rooted in its nebulous meaning. They were echoing a familiar kind of tragedy where man’s curiosity is harshly punished.


What is the theme of ‘Leave him now Quiet by the Way?

There are two themes identifiable in the poem: the first is gleaned from the speaker’s empathy toward the downtrodden man, and the second hones in on the man’s paralyzing fear. Stickney accentuates the way such compassion can keenly discern one’s own woes in the faces of others. While also offering a dreadfully affecting description of such despondent misery.

Why did Trumbull Stickney write, ‘Leave him now Quiet by the Way?

An interesting connection exists between Stickney’s poem and ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ by Friedrich Nietzsche. Not only was one of his dissertations (‘Les Sentences dans la Poésie Grecque d’Homère à Euripide’) influenced by the essay, but so too do the words of the poem’s speaker. Nietzsche saw the “Dionysian man” as akin to Hamlet: “Both have for once seen into the true nature of things — they have perceived, but they are loath to act; for their action cannot change the eternal nature of things.” This sounds a lot like the man the speaker assumes has peered beyond a door and heard something he was not meant to hear.

Why does the speaker call the man a “wretched little lad” in the poem?

This is one of the more curious tonal shifts in the poem. Up to this point, the speaker’s characterization of the man has been mostly empathetic. But this interjection carries a bitter chastisement and a far more diminutive pity. The purpose of this appears to be to echo a voice of parental authority and perhaps even the words of those beyond the door which caught the man listening in.

What is the significance of the “builder’s lime” mentioned?

Builder’s lime refers to a chemical compound used often in construction. It is mixed and used as an ingredient in both mortar and plaster. The image is used by the speaker to picture the man’s broken state with a metaphor that illustrates how he’s been pulverized into a mixture.

Similar Poems

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Leave him now Quiet by the Way

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.

Trumbull Stickney

This poem by Trumbull Stickney reveals the powerful and potent poignancy at the heart of many of his poems. But it also underscores the reason he was favored and celebrated by later modernist poets like W. H. Auden. This poem is particularly effective at expressing both empathy and a lucid commentary on the existential crises of life.
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20th Century

Stickney's early works were published in the last decade of the 19th century, yet he also wrote a number of poems just before his death in 1904. This includes his 1902 collection titled "Dramatic Verses." Although he tragically died young and far before his poetic talent could be fully realized, poems like this one still survive as memorials to his skill.
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Although he spent his early life in Switzerland, where he was born, Stickney would eventually become a Harvard graduate and a promising young American poet. Unfortunately, he died at an early age before his talents could fully mature. What remains is a body of work like this poem that offers a glimpse at the profundity his verse was grasping for.
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Failure is one possible theme found within Stickney's poem, as the speaker's description of the man is strikingly similar to one who has faced such utter and complete failure. Much is ambiguous about the reason why the man is in this state, but one thing is made exceptionally clear: their downward spiral has taken an immense toll on them.
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Recovery also presents itself as a minor theme in the poem. According to the speaker, there is some hope in the stranger eventually finding the strength and will to pick themselves up off the ground. But they also make it clear that even with an opportunity to rest, he may not overcome his paralytic fear and depression.
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Spirituality is touched on within the poem in the form of the man's existential crisis. The implication is that their physical inertness is a result of some deeply internalized fear, which is described as being a fear of time in particular, which in turn can be interpreted a variety of ways, including as a fear of death or intense hopelessness.
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Compassion is kindled in both the speaker and the reader for the man. Stickney's poem is fueled by a desire to both understand and express empathy for his current state of affairs. Everything from the poet's diction to their use of imagery is directed at successfully inspiring a similar emotion within the reader.
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Depression is intensely characterized throughout the poem, and it offers an intimate look at the experience of such an overwhelming emotion. Stickney obviously had some experience in facing down life's disappointments, especially in the last few years of his life. This explains how he was able to so passionately articulate such a depressive state, as seen in this poem.
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The man's all-consuming hopelessness is the one emotion that permeates powerfully from the entire poem. Each stanza characterizes a different effect and image of this emotion, with the most effective being the comparison to an animal paralyzed by a coming slaughter. Stickney's imagery and figurative language are visceral and signify the incredible depths of suffering he could perceive.
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Life Lessons

A life lesson lies in Stickney's didactic verse, an attempt to both recognize such suffering in others and to advocate treating it with empathy. But the speaker also sees in the man a darker lesson about life. Sometimes through no fault of our own, we become privy to some truth or experience that leaves us hopeless and adrift.
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A vivid aspect of the poem is Stickney's portrayal of a man who has succumbed to the struggle of life. His dejected and paralyzed state is familiar to anyone who has attempted to overcome adversity only to fail. It is from this struggle that the speaker is now trying to rest and recover from.
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Time is mentioned in the poem in a cryptic manner. The speaker explains that the man has a fear of time, which is supposed to be one of the reasons they have been laid so low. It is unclear whether this is just a fear of death or deeper, more existential terror.
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One of the captivating aspects of the poem is its vulnerable and lucidly painful portrayal of the effects of trauma on people. The poem is ambiguous about the source of the trauma, but the speaker does offer a hint and hypothesis. Yet regardless of the reason, it is abundantly clear they have experienced something truly devastating.
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Dramatic Monologue

Stickney's poem unfolds as a dramatic monologue made by the speaker about the man they are observing. As a result, it unfolds from their perspective as they seek to articulate the source of the stranger's broken spirit and paralyzed state. This results in an incredibly poignant expression of empathy for those who suffer through no fault of their own.
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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.

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