Dedicatory by Willa Cather

Dedicatory’ by Willa Cather is a twenty-five line poem that is contained within one block of text. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme but Cather does make use of scattered instances of full rhyme (sometimes created through repetition), as well as slant or half rhyme. 

Slant rhyme is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For example, “venture” and “together” in lines nineteen and twenty-one. Both of these words make use of the same ending sound, but they do not fully rhyme. The same can be said of the words “summons,” “quarters” and “shadows” in the first stanza. 

By giving ‘Dedicatory’  a vague feeling of rhyme, Cather was able to create some rhythmic unity, but not get bogged down by a particular structure. This technique also ensures that the focus remains on the images and their meanings. 

Cather also makes use of alliteration in order to increase the rhythm of the poem. It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “brave” and “brigandage” in line twenty-three. 

While analyzing the text, a reader should also consider the dedication at the beginning of the poem. ‘Dedicatory’ is addressed to “To R.C.C. AND C.D.C.” After reading the lines it is becomes very likely that these two sets of initials represent two of Cather’s companions, those addressed in the poem. 

 

Summary of Dedicatory 

‘Dedicatory’ by Willa Cather is a vibrant poem that speaks on the past and the glorious sights, sounds, images and adventures it offered. 

The poem begins with the speaker addressing two listeners, asking them to come to her and join her on a quest into the past. They are going to gather at the perfect moment that is reminiscent of the world they used to live in. From separate homes, represented by the “four quarters” of the world they’ll join one another under the moon. 

The moon plays an important role in the second stanza. It comes to represent a female force that swims in the sky and helps to set the scene. Under the light of the moon the speaker and her two companions will meet up and work to recover their more youthful mindsets. 

‘Dedicatory’ concludes with the speaker proposing a toast to the past and the many magical-seeming adventures the three engaged in. She hopes they are able to re-engage with the past in a meaningful way. 

 

Analysis of Dedicatory 

Lines 1-7 

Somewhere, sometime, in an April twilight,

When the hills are hid in violet shadows

When meadow brooks are still and hushed for wonder,

At the ring dove’s call as at a summons,

Let us gather from the world’s four quarters,

Stealing from the trackless dusk like shadows,

Meet to wait the moon, and greet in silence.

In the first lines of ‘Dedicatory’  Cather begins describing a wonderful and peaceful landscape scene. The exact location is unknown, something that is made clear in the first lines when she describes a meeting “Somewhere, sometime”. She reveals to the reader that the month and time, “an April twilight” is very important. The word “April” is used five times int the short poem. It is also important that the surroundings exist in one particular way. The hills have to be covered in “violet shadows” and the rivers need to be quiet. 

The first four lines, evoke the magical qualities of nature,  as is common in Cather’s writing. They are rich in imagery and simply described so they become very easy to understand. 

The last lines of this stanza reveal the event the speaker has been leading up to. She asks that “we” gather together “from the world’s four quarters” and “Meet to wait the moon, and greet in silence”. The “we” she is referring to in these lines is not made clear, even by the end of the poem. But, a few more details about the relationship between the speaker and the listeners are provided. What is clear, is that the speaker is describing a meeting at a very special, rare time. 

 

Lines 8-14 

When she swims above the April branches, 

Rises clear of naked oak and beeches, 

Sit with me beneath the snowy orchard, 

Where the white moth hangs with wings entranced, 

Drunken with the still perfume of blossoms. 

Then, for that the moon was ours of olden, 

Let it work again its old enchantment. 

The vibrant natural images continue in the next lines of ‘Dedicatory’ as she brings the moon to life. Cather personifies the moon, referring to it as a woman that “swims above the April branches”. The sky is like her sea and she rises above the tree branches that are “naked” of leaves. 

She turns to the listener again, asking them to come and sit with her underneath the snow covered orchard. They’ll know it’s the right place when they see that there is also a white moth hanging there with “wing entranced”. With the reference to the moth’s drunkenness in the next line the speaker alludes to indulgence. She ties it to beauty when claiming that the creature became sated from indulging in the “perfume of blossoms”. 

The speaker describes how in this moment, when they’ve come together, the moon will belong to them again. “She” will be as she was in the past and her “old enchantment[s]” will return. 

 

Lines 15-19

Let it, for an April night, transform us

From our grosser selves to happy shadows

Of the three who lay and planned at moonrise,

On an island in a western river,

Of the conquest of the world together.

In the last set of lines the speaker reminds the reader, for the third time, that the scene is, or would be, taking place in April. She wants “it” for a single night in April to “transform us”. She is seeking a wondrous renewal of times long past, but when one considers the magical imagery and the perfection of what she has so far described, it is easy to see that this is more of a dream than reality. The speaker describes how it is the “happy shadows” of the past she’d like to get back, brushing off their “grosser selves”. 

The two companions she has been addressing throughout ‘Dedicatory’ were in the past the “three who lay and planned at moonrise”. They spent time on an unnamed island somewhere in a “western river”. The lack of place names or exact details adds to the intangible quality of the poem. 

 

Lines 20-25

Let us pour our amber wine and drink it

To the memory of our vanished kingdom,

To our days of war and ocean venture,

Brave with brigandage and sack of cities;

To the Odysseys of summer mornings,

Starry wonder-tales of nights in April.

They are going to, as the moth did, indulge and drink to the past. They’ll recall the monumentality of their distant selves and the “vanished kingdom” that was their youth and the dreams they had for the future. 

 The three used to engage in “war and ocean venture”. There were brave endeavours and Odyssey-like epic journeys. Now, as they are residing the present, not the past, they can only recall the “wonder-tales of nights in April”. Through the speaker’s beautiful, emotional and evocative descriptions the three can get as close as possible to the past.

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