‘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 StickneyLeave 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.
Explore Leave him now Quiet by the Way
‘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.
‘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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- ‘There is a pain—so utter’ by Emily Dickinson – this poem also attempts to explore the source and nature of such overwhelming pain and sadness.
- ‘They Say My Verse is Sad’ by A.E. Housman – this poem imparts an explanation by the poet for their depressing subject matter.
- ‘Solitude’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox – this poem also illustrates the way loneliness creates such acute despair.