‘Fides, Spes’ by Willa Cather is a twenty-eight-line poem that is contained within one block of text. The title is Latin translating to, “faith, hope”. It follows a simple rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing sounds as the poet saw fit. There is also a very distinct difference in how Cather used the line lengths, as well as their margins. This forces a reader’s eyes back and forth on the page, emphasizing the rhythm that is already present in the lines and adding to it. The margins also mirror the rhyme scheme as it bounces back and forth between rhymed and unrhymed lines.
Cather also makes use of a number of poetic techniques, some of which, such as alliteration, are noted in the body of the analysis. One of the most important techniques in ‘Fides, Spes,’ and one that is commonly used within poetry, is enjambment. This occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, a reader can look at lines one and eighteen.
Fides, Spes Willa Cather Joy is come to the little Everywhere; Pink to the peach and pink to the apple, White to the pear. Stars are come to the dogwood, Astral, pale; Mists are pink on the red-bud, Veil after veil. Flutes for the feathery locusts, Soft as spray; Tongues of the lovers for chestnuts, poplars, Babbling May. Yellow plumes for the willows’ Wind-blown hair; Oak trees and sycamores only Comfortless bare. Sore from steel and the watching, Somber and old,— Wooing robes for the beeches, larches, Splashed with gold; Breath o’ love to the lilac, Warm with noon.— Great hearts cold when the little Beat mad so soon. What is their faith to bear it Till it come, Waiting with rain-cloud and swallow, Frozen, dumb?
Summary of Fides Spes
The poem begins with the speaker describing how joys come everywhere, but most especially to “the little”. It can be found in the pinkness and whiteness of fruits and flowers, as well as in the stars of the dogwood tree. As the speaker goes on, the images combine and become less easy to distinguish. Merged together, they form an overall image of beauty and joy, as well as the faith it takes (as well as hope) for it to return in the midst of a rainstorm.
Analysis of Fides, Spes
Joy is come to the little
Pink to the peach and pink to the apple,
White to the pear.
Stars are come to the dogwood,
Mists are pink on the red-bud,
Veil after veil.
In the first lines of ‘Fides, Spes’ the speaker describes how joy is a force that is contained within everything, even the things that seem the least significant. It can be found in the “Pink” of a peach, the “pink” of an apple, and the “White” of a pear. With these colours, the assorted fruits are brought joy.
The speaker goes on, using more lines that are filled with colour and natural imagery. She speaks on the way stars “come to” and are seen within the “dogwood” tree. They are “Astral,” or related to the stars, and light in color. This ephemeral feeling is continued with mist imagery and the reuse of the color “pink”. The mist is tinted pink as it lingers over the “red-bud”. The intentional vagueness of the images Cather crafts alludes to shapes and landscapes. In this case, the “bud” is probably part of a flower and the “veil” is in reference to the layers of mist overlapping it
Flutes for the feathery locusts,
Soft as spray;
Tongues of the lovers for chestnuts, poplars,
Yellow plumes for the willows’
Oak trees and sycamores only
In the second stanza of ‘Fides, Spes’ the speaker continues with a list of similar images. As the sights, sounds and feelings of the natural world overlap one another, they merge, becoming more and more related and indistinguishable. Human or animal elements, such as “Tongues,” are connected with chestnuts and poplars. The soft watery “spray” is related to “feathery locusts” in the first lines. The use and reuse of the word “for” in these lines makes it feel as if each element is arriving with a purpose and in order to do some good, just like “faith” and “hope”.
Cather’s speaker follows the same line patterns as the poem continues. She speaks on the “Yellow plumes” that are used as the “willows’ / Wind-blown hair”. The trees are personified and made to feel more human and more relatable. Cather also made use of alliteration in these lines with the words “willows” and “Wind”.
Sore from steel and the watching,
Somber and old,—
Wooing robes for the beeches, larches,
Splashed with gold;
Breath o’ love to the lilac,
Warm with noon.—
Cather goes on, speaking about the different textures and feelings present in this poignant and colourful landscape. She uses the word “Sore” as if the trees and other plant and animal life could experience aches and pains the same way that humans do. She also describes them as “Somber,” or quiet/resolved, as well as “old”.
In the next lines, she repeats the “-es” ending, giving the lines an added element of rhythm and rhyme. Color comes back into ‘Fides, Spes’ as a reader is presented with the beech and larch trees “Splashed with gold”. This could refer to the colours of their leaves and how they are transformed.
She also adds that “Breath o’ love” is brought “to the lilac”. It is the joy of the sun and the warmth that beats down on the plants at noon.
Great hearts cold when the little
Beat mad so soon.
What is their faith to bear it
Till it come,
Waiting with rain-cloud and swallow,
‘Fides, Spes’ concludes with the speaker refocusing on the importance of “the little” and the way the smallest things in life are able to contain the most joy. The “Great hearts” of the world are cold and in comparison, the “little” that “Beat mad so soon”. These small things wait, with faith, until the joy of light and life come back. They don’t know when their cold days will end, but until then they are “Waiting with rain-cloud and swallow”.