‘Silver’ by Walter de la Mare is a fourteen-line sonnet that follows a rhyming pattern of aabbccddeeffgg. With this rhyme scheme, the poem conforms to the known “Clare” or line-rhymed sonnet form. It was named for the poet John Clare who established much of his reputation through verse written in this pattern. Clare’s works often followed the metrical pattern of iambic pentameter, but de la Mare has chosen to diverge from tradition and utilize a variety of different syllabic patterns. The first four lines contain eight syllables, but others stretch to nine or even ten.
A reader should also take note of the repetition utilized in this piece. De la Mare has chosen to repeat the word “silver” a total of eight times.’ at least once within each rhyming couplet. There are also moments of internal rhyme and half rhyme. This can be seen most prominently in the first four lines with the use of the words “Slowly” and “silently” as well as “peers” and “sees.” There is a very prominent rhythm to the first four lines as well. This diverges somewhat as the poem continues, but all the lines range around the same number of words and syllables, unifying the text.
Summary of Silver
The poem begins with the speaker stating that the light of the moon is casting down on earth. This is occurring while, “she,” the moon, moves slowly through the sky. The moon is taking its time, choosing to look at everything on earth while “she” has the chance.
Some of the creatures and objects that are spotted and therefore cast in “silver light” are the “casements” of windows, doves, a dog, and sleeping fish. These creatures and objects are perfectly mundane and ordinary. There is nothing remarkable about them during the day, but at night they are enhanced and made more beautiful.
Analysis of Silver
Slowly, silently, now the moon
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by describing the progress of the moon through the sky. It is moving as one would expect, “Slowly” and “silently.” There is an immediate personification of the moon’s actions. The speaker refers to it as a “she” and describes how “she” is walking through the night. It is as if the moon’s slow progression is of “her” own choice. “She” makes her way through the night, taking her time to “peer” and “See” everything.
There is one element of the nighttime scene that catches her eye especially, the “Silver fruit upon silver trees.” As a reader moves through the various couplets that make up this text one will notice that “silver” is used to describe almost every sight seen by the moon. It is “her” own shining that which casts this tint upon the ground. She is drawn in by the beauty of her own life force which first shows itself on fruit trees. These represent life and bounty, important and joyful elements of the world.
One by one the casements catch
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
In the following set of lines, the speaker moves on to describe additional sites the moon sees. Her eye is soon drawn to the “casements.” This word refers to the part of a window set on a hinge. The small metal bits of its construction catches the light beautifully. One should now be able to relate the light to two very different types of objects—both organic and manmade creations are impacted by the moon.
The moment described in the first couplet of this section happened “beneath the silvery thatch.” This is a reference to the roof of a building, likely a house in this case. Here, the light has found a place to shine within the confines of a home that is likely not very elaborate. A thatch roof is most often made of straw or a similar material. All the same, the windows and the roof shine.
In the next two lines, the speaker moves onto something with more life, a “dog.” This specific animal is sleeping “like a log” in “his kennel,” or outdoor shelter. Here, without his knowledge, the moon touches him and turns his paws silver. This is a magical moment, made even more so by the mundane nature of the subject.
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
With silver claws and a silver eye;
In the next sets of couplets, the speaker moves on to another type of animal, a dove. In this case, many doves. They are within their “shadowy cote,” or shelter, sleeping. All the world is resting, and no one, aside from the speaker and his intended listener/s knows of the beauty occurring outside. The “silver” touches the “doves” this time as well as a “harvest mouse.”
It is important to note that de la Mare has specifically chosen the least remarkable of subjects for this piece. They are enhanced and made more important by their closeness to the light of the moon. It does not discriminate between different objects or animals. The mouse, for instance, has been made more beautiful by its “silver claws” and “silver eye.” These creatures take on an air of mystery they did not previously have. It was de la Mare’s intent to make a reader rethink the value of these everyday organisms and inanimate objects underneath a night sky.
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.
The final couplet of the piece evokes a feeling of peace and movement that encourages a reader to imagine the description continuing on past the end. He speaks first on the fish which are also sleeping. They are “moveless” in the gleaming water.
All around them the “silver reeds” move steadily within the “silver stream.” It is easy to envision the river moving in the nighttime landscape, through till morning.