Elegy for Jane
by Theodore Roethke
Stanza 4 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
- The last stanza begins with the speaker wishing he could bring Jane back, wake her from death's permanent sleep.
- As he does in the beginning of stanza 3, the speaker addresses Jane directly, but this time he refers to her as, "My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon."
- Yes. More birds.
- Keeping in mind the metaphorical connection between Jane and birds, the description of the "skittery pigeon" gives us, perhaps, additional insight into Jane's personality and mannerisms.
- Think about how pigeons move and behave. They are aloof, until you get one step too close and then they get, well, jumpy, twitchy, edgy, you know… skittery.
Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.
- In the poem's closing lines, we see the speaker at Jane's grave. It seems plausible that everything the speaker has said up to this point, "the words of [his] love," has been spoken here.
- It is a new grave. The recently dug soil is still damp. Perhaps it has been raining.
- The poem seems to take an odd turn in the last two lines. After declaring his love for Jane, the speaker says that, since he is neither Jane's father nor her lover in a romantic sense, he has, "no rights" in the matter of her death. So, the solves… well, pretty much nothing about their relationship. Let's dig deeper.
- The word "rights" stands out in this context. We usually associate this word with laws and legalities, not with feelings and emotions. Rights makes us think about what we are entitled to, what we are allowed, right and wrong, and rules.
- The speaker seems to be saying that, without a familial or romantic connection to Jane, society doesn't really acknowledge his intense feelings of grief. He has no right to be so moved and so touched by her death if she was simply his student and he simply her teacher.
- So, what gives? He loves her, right?
- Well, when we take into consideration all the natural imagery and nature metaphors that Roethke associates with Jane, it seems that this speaker's love for Jane is like the love someone feels for the natural world, for life, or for beauty: the way we love a sunset or the smell of a favorite flower.
- For the speaker, Jane made the world a brighter, more beautiful place. This is what he loves and misses about Jane. She was part of the beauty and complexity of the natural world and, without her, the world itself feels, for the speaker, incomplete.
- Roethke challenges us to consider whether this kind of love is any less significant than any other kind of love.
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