William Barnes

The Storm-Wind by William Barnes

‘The Storm-Wind’ by William Barnes contrasts peace and danger with images of home and a terrifying storm. The poem emphasizes how much easier it is to appreciate the safety of home when the conditions outside are so inhospitable.

This three-stanza poem is divided into three sections. The first talks about the storm generally, the second focuses on two travelers stuck in the storm, and the final stanza, written in first-person perspective, describes the speaker’s home and how quiet it is. 

The Storm-Wind
William Barnes

When the swift-rolling brook, swollen deep,Rushes on by the alders, full speed,And the wild-blowing winds lowly sweepO'er the quivering leaf and the weed,And the willow tree writhes in each limb,Over sedge-reeds that reel by the brim —

The man that is staggering byHolds his hat to his head by the brim;And the girl, as her hair-locks outfly,Puts a foot out, to keep herself trim,And the quivering wavelings o'erspreadThe small pool where the bird dips his head.

But out at my house, in the leeOf the nook, where the winds die away,The light swimming airs, round the treeAnd the low-swinging ivy stem, playSo soft that a mother that's nighHer still cradle may hear her babe sigh.
The Storm-Wind by William Barnes


‘The Storm-Wind’ by William Barnes describes a raging storm and a safe, quiet home. 

The first two stanzas of the text describe a storm in an unknown location. Whatever place the speaker is thinking of, the natural world is beaten back and tossed around by raging winds and rain. The second stanza describes two travelers, a man, and a girl, who is forced to contend with these terrible conditions. The final stanza uses a first-person narrative perspective and conveys the speaker’s gratitude for his safe home life.


The main theme of this poem is chaos vs. peace or danger vs. safety. The poet depicts chaos and danger through descriptions of a raging storm. The poet emphasizes the rising river waters, the way that plants and trees are buffered by the wind, and two travelers struggling to make it through the storm. At the same time, they emphasize how a home provides a refuge from the storm (mental and physical). 

Structure and Form 

‘The Storm-Wind’ by William Barnes is a three-stanza poem that is divided into sets of six lines, known as sestets. These sestets follow a changing rhyme scheme of ABABCC. The second and third stanzas have many of the same end sounds. Throughout all three stanzas, the poet focuses on the power of the natural world. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Anaphora: the use of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “And” which starts two lines in the first stanza. 
  • Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines.
  • Imagery: the use of particularly effective descriptions that should inspire the reader’s senses. For example, “And the willow tree writhes in each limb.” This line is also an example of personification
  • Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “swift” and “swollen” in line one, and “wild” and “winds” are in line three of the first stanza. 

Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One 

When the swift-rolling brook, swollen deep,

Rushes on by the alders, full speed,

And the wild-blowing winds lowly sweep

O’er the quivering leaf and the weed,

And the willow tree writhes in each limb,

Over sedge-reeds that reel by the brim —

In the first stanza, the speaker begins by describing a quick-moving brook that’s swollen with water, meaning that it’s filled to the brim (something that adds to how fast it’s able to move). The poet uses consonance in these lines with the same consonant sounds, like “rolling” and “swollen.” 

It becomes clear in the next lines that there is a storm happening, increasing the river’s water flow and meaning that there is also a strong wind blowing. It’s moving the alder and shaking the leaves and weeds. It’s capable of influencing and changing the environment in drastic ways. The poet uses personification in these lines, employing words like “writhes” and “quivering” to describe the trees and leaves. 

Stanza Two

The man that is staggering by

Holds his hat to his head by the brim;

And the girl, as her hair-locks outfly,

Puts a foot out, to keep herself trim,

And the quivering wavelings o’erspread

The small pool where the bird dips his head.

In the second stanza, the poet introduces a man into the imagery. He’s staggering by in the middle of a storm. He’s holding onto his hat “by the brim” alongside a “girl, as her hair-locks outfly.” 

They’re fighting against the wind as it tries to keep them from their path, surrounded by the “quivering” trees. Nearby is a “small pool where the bird dips his head,” indicating that nature has no issue with the increased weather. The bird lives as it always does. 

Stanza Three 

But out at my house, in the lee

Of the nook, where the winds die away,

The light swimming airs, round the tree

And the low-swinging ivy stem, play

So soft that a mother that’s nigh

Her still cradle may hear her babe sigh.

In the final stanza, the speaker transition into first-person narrative perspective, using the first-person pronoun “my.” The speaker is somewhere safe, out of the storm, and within a home where the winds can’t reach him. He’s fortunate compared to the two described in the second stanza. In the home, it is quiet enough (an example of juxtaposition) to hear a mother’s “babe sigh.” 


What is the message of ‘The Storm-Wind’ by William Barnes? 

The message is that the power of nature can be overwhelming, but that home provides a safe haven away from much of the destruction. The poet contrasts the dangerous, chaotic outside world with the quiet, peaceful home life of the speaker.

What is the purpose of ‘The Storm-Wind’ by William Barnes?

The purpose of them is to emphasize how serene and important staying at home can feel when the outside world demonstrates its most terrifying dangers. The speaker emphasizes how safe home feels when a storm is raging outside.

What is the tone of ‘The Storm-Wind’ by William Barnes?

The tone is at first descriptive and amazed. The speaker is clearly up with what the natural world is capable of and the power it exerts. The last part of the poem contains feelings of peace and gratitude for the safety of home. 

What is ‘The Storm-Wind’ by William Barnes about? 

The poem is about how striking the peace of home can feel when it’s contrasted against the raging storm outside. Only when one sees how dangerous the outside world is that one truly appreciates what they have at home. 

Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘The Storm-Wind’ should also consider reading some other William Barnes poems. For example: 

  • The Broken Heart’ – describes a kind and selfless Fanny whose heart was broken by a selfish and cruel man. 

Other related poems include: 

  • Storm Fear’ by Robert Frost – describes hiding inside his home, trying to protect his family from a storm.
  • Storm on the Island by Seamus Heaney – describes how an islander or the islanders lives or live their lives on an island that is frequently hit by the fierce and ravaging storms.

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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