Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
She says, "I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?"
- At the beginning of this stanza, we’re back inside the thoughts of our female protagonist. This time, though, we actually get her thoughts in the first person, inside of quotation marks.
- She’s thinking about how happy ("content") she feels when she sees birds who have just woken up in the morning and are about to leave for a hard day of flying.
- This is one of the truly great images of the poem. Have you ever seen birds before they are about to take off from a field or meadow? They don’t just take off – first they poke around, explore the area a bit, and round up the entire flock. The woman imagines that the birds are asking "questions" to "test the reality" of the field.
- Basically, she is saying that when she sees this amazing natural scene, she feels like she’s in heaven.
- Unfortunately, this feeling can’t last forever. Eventually the birds will take off and "are gone," the morning ends, and even "their warm fields" change or disappear over time.
- By the way, this image contains birds, morning, and sunshine. Sounds a lot like the beginning of the poem, huh? It’s a pretty safe bet that the incredible vision of these lines was inspired in her mind by her humble cockatoo, the warm sun, and the beautiful morning. It just goes to show what the imagination is capable of.
- It’s as if she is saying that she feels pretty close to heaven on this Sunday morning, and that she doesn’t want it to end. But, she knows that it has to end sometime.
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.
- We’re outside of quotation marks again, which means we’re not getting direct thoughts anymore.
- And, yes, we sympathize: it’s hard to keep track of all these shifts in perspective. But, you can think of the rest of the poem as a dialogue between the woman and the poet, who seems to have access to her deepest thoughts. They are not talking directly to each other, but they might as well be. Every line in quotation marks belongs to the woman; everything else belongs to the poet.
- In these lines, the poet responds to her concern that natural beauty won’t last forever by pointing out that, even though mythical and religious visions of paradise have come and gone, nature has outlasted them all.
- Lines 51-56 are a list of these mythical visions.
- A "haunt" is just a place where people hang out, but, of course, the word also makes us think of spirits or ghosts. A "haunt of prophecy" sounds like a place where people go after they die, as predicted by a religious prophet. It also makes us think of a trace or something left behind – as in, we live in a world that is "haunted" by Biblical and other prophecies. (Which sounds pretty cool).
- In the next line, a "chimera" is a mythical creature or thing that doesn’t actually exist. A "chimera of the grave" is another way of referring to a place that people think they will go when they die, but which doesn’t really exist.
- The "golden underground" probably refers to the heaven of Greek mythology, called Elysium, which is under the earth, but beautiful and sunny all the time.
- The "isle melodious" refers to another mythical vision of the afterlife, in which people are ferried to a magnificent island when they died.
- The "visionary south" refers to a time when people didn’t know what lay to the south of them, so they figured it must be some kind of paradise.
- We’re not sure what the "cloudy palm remote on heaven’s hill" refers to, except that it’s another myth of paradise. It might even be the Christian view of paradise, or "heaven."
- For the poet, the one thing that all of these visions of paradise have in common is that no one seriously believes in them anymore. They have not lasted or "endured."
- The poet implies that the Christian idea of heaven could be added to this list. According to him, people will eventually stop believing in the heaven of Christianity and move on to some other idea. At that point, it will no longer "exist."
- By contrast, the natural beauties like "April’s green" will always exist, if not in the present, then at least in the memory ("remembrance") of the past, or the desire for the future.
- The poem seems to be set in springtime, and one of the things she looks forward to is a June evening when she can see another kind of bird, the swallow, flying around. The flying of the swallow would be like the cherry on top ("consummation") of the beauty of a summer night.
- In other words, she’s hopeful that she’ll see more natural beauty in the future.