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Elegy for Jane

Elegy for Jane


by Theodore Roethke

Stanza 3 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 14-15

My sparrow, you are not here,
Waiting like a fern, making a spiny shadow.

  • For the first time in the poem, the speaker addresses Jane directly, but not by name, calling her instead, "My sparrow."
  • The third stanza begins with a return to the bird metaphor. This time she is a sparrow, but she is gone and the speaker laments her absence.
  • The speaker acknowledges that she (the bird/Jane) is not there, "waiting like a fern."
  • Roethke builds on the bird metaphor with the addition of a simile, comparing the bird/Jane to a plant, a fern, casting a spiny shadow.
  • Spiny sounds a little prickly, but the delicate, complex pattern of the fern leaf would cast a beautiful shadow. See for yourself.
  • This description gives us, perhaps, more insight into Jane's complexity of character: she is, at times, dark and aloof, but she posses a complex beauty in form and personality.

Lines 16-17

The sides of wet stones cannot console me,
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.

  • There is nothing that will help ease the speaker's pain over the loss of Jane.
  • Roethke uses very descriptive, tactile lines to let us feel and see the depths of the speaker's sadness.
  • We can almost feel the smooth, cool, wet stones. We can imagine how, on a hot day, the wet stones would offer welcome relief from the hot sun. But they do nothing to console the speaker.
  • The description of the delicate moss, dappled with rays of light from the setting sun, is a moment of true, unusual, natural beauty; but it still cannot distract the speaker from his grief.

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