‘Waterfalls’ by Vernon Watkins is an elegy written in free verse with four stanzas dedicated to the memories of the narrator. The narrator discusses childhood memories with intense nostalgia giving the poem its name: waterfalls. Just as waterfalls have a continuous flow of water that is seemingly endless, a person’s life moves forward continuously creating memories that become a part of them forever. for every individual, memories are like water, they cannot ever be held onto with bare hands, they can only be revisited when frozen in time. The narrator has grown into a man who not only treasures his past but values the experiences of his youth, understanding that the people and the places he once knew so well are not the same as they used to be and will never again be that way. You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of Waterfalls
Always in that valley in Wales I hear the noiseOf waters falling.(…)Lost in the rookery’s criesWould cross, and branches cracking under their knees
The first stanza of this poem introduces the narrator and his voice opening up the memories most dear to him. In line one the reader is quickly introduced to the “valley in Wales” as the setting of the poem and the heart of the narrator’s nostalgia. The most significant part of this valley for the narrator and his poem is the waterfall present in it. Although the actual waterfall is not mentioned very much in the poem it is the most significant symbol of the poem. it represents the fluidity of the narrator’s life and his incapability to stop and return to the times in the past where he did not even realize he would one-day treasure the moments he was living.
The narrator moves on to discuss the “clump of trees”, by giving such details he is conveying to the reader that he is fond of these memories and s remembers every detail, while also implying that he was once there often enough to now remember the surrounding environments for his dearest memories.
The rest of the stanza describes his experience of climbing trees “for nuts” and watching other boys climb higher into the tops of the trees, disturbing the crow-like birds who were resting there. The branches of the trees would crack “under their knees” as they climbed the trees. The reader is experiencing these memories at a very intimate level because the narrator is very gently illustrating his memories to allow the reader to want to feel the nostalgia that he feels. climbing the trees as young boys is an important memory simply because they are physically acting out what they want for their futures: a climb to the top. This memory also helps the reader understand a little bit of the narrator’s personality as he seems to hold such simple and innocent times of the past as very dear memories.
Would break, and make in the winter wood new gaps.(…)Secret as chestnuts when they are tipped from a sack,
The second stanza of this poem begins to focus on what the narrator found most impactful about this memory of the boys climbing trees for nuts with him. He remembers how the branches would break, creating “new gaps” in the trees during winter and how the ground was covered in fallen leaves that were turning black but the nuts they “threw” in their caps were very much different then the dying leaves, they were “speckled and stripped”. He remembers that they were “secret” and new because they were hidden in their shells and not disturbed by the other things that were dying away in the cold.
The branches breaking and causing gaps in the cluster of trees can easily be a metaphor for life, and how when things do not go according to plan and the support an individual was relying on falls through it causes that person to fall creating gaps of time where he or she needs to reassess his or her situation to figure out a new plan and goal and move forward. that is how life works, there are many gaps in every person’s tree of life.
The reader is also allowed to take in the idea of finding something precious in a place that is wilting away, these moments that the narrator has experienced were a normal part of his youth and growing up, however now that he is older he can look back and appreciate the life that he lived, the appreciation for these moments of innocence and a sense of fulfillment is what can be considered his chestnuts because throughout time these feelings and emotions are the only things left that still feels new and untouched by the harsh passage of time. it is clear that the narrator truly values his childhood in a way that he never did while experiencing it, now that he realizes that he holds his nostalgia dear and it is the only proof of the life he once lived.
Glossy and new.Always in that valley in Wales(…)Gone when dawn shines on scales,And glides from village memory, slips through the mesh,
The third stanza also starts off by reminding the reader of the place most dear to the narrator, “that valley in Wales”. He mentions that every time he visits that valley he hears the sounds and voices he always used to hear as a child. The voices are not faded like the experiences he once had there, rather they “keep fresh” in his mind as loves to count on them to keep his memories alive. The narrator recounts his past life very fondly as he continues to age and grow old; he has found a new appreciation for what he once had.
He continues the stanza by describing that “What ripens, falls, drops into darkness, fails,” translating to what he lets go of just grows old like him and eventually falls into darkness by being forgotten. He believes that if he lets things go he will quickly forget them and they will become nonexistent, his memories exist because he has held on to them tightly, not letting himself forget the intricate details of his favorite moments. He is afraid to have the voices that he cherishes also disappear and fail his memory. As the people he once had a part of his everyday life, he no longer lives there. he took them for granted and now is regretful as he realizes that no new day will bring them back to be with him and recreate the voices exactly as he has memorized them. It is not only from his own memory that the voices have disappeared but they have in actuality left the village and now will never be heard in that village or valley again. how disappointing it must be to go back to a place full of childhood memories only to find nothing.
And is not, when we come again.I look:(…)Back, there is only the brookReminding the stones where, under a breath, it falls.
The final stanza of this poem concludes the narrator’s nostalgic trip by stating that his own memory can keep alive what in reality is dead. He starts the stanza by stating that he looks, this is important because it conveys the fact that he is not just traveling in his mind and heart but also in reality. He is physically standing in a place that he greatly values and is seeing the passage of time with his own two eyes. When he looks around he is able to see that the tangible things are still there, the stone, the bridge, and the waterfall but the voices are gone. so his own voice tells him that he can still remind the valley that the voices once existed there, and will forever be alive in his memory.