Study Guide

The Cool Web Stanza 2

By Robert Graves

Stanza 2

Lines 5-8

But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
And speech, to dull the rose's cruel scent.
We spell away the overhanging night,
We spell away the soldiers and the fright.

  • After telling us all about children and their tendency not to put their experiences into words, Graves mentions "we"—probably referring to himself and his readers (us)—who are probably adults. We can tell from the way he's set up the contrast that "we" are somehow different from children, and it has something to do with the fact that we "have speech." In simple terms, Graves is basically saying that once you learn how to talk, your life changes drastically. 
  • And it also sounds like knowing how to talk is a good thing, because our language allows us to metaphorically "chill the angry day" and "dull the rose's cruel scent." In other words, our language seems to have a direct impact on how we experience the world. It's like a magic spell that lets us "spell away the overhanging night" and "spell away the soldiers and the fright."
  • It's also neat to notice here how Graves is talking about the double meaning of the word "spell," which can mean to arrange letters to make a word, but also put on a wizard's hat and cast a magical spell. For Graves, the two meanings mean the same thing in this instance, because he seems to think that our ability to talk has a direct effect on the things we experience in our lives. And this definitely seems like a good thing, since talking about our experiences has a way of making them less scary, as is the case when we "spell away" the horrible things like the overhanging night and soldiers (and Miley Cyrus videos… oh wait—). 
  • But wait a second? Is Graves actually talking about magic here? Surely, he can't be suggesting that our words can literally make a group of marching soldiers disappear? Relax, Shmoopers. No, he's not. What Graves is talking about here is the way that putting our experiences into words can give us a sense of control over our experiences. It's important to know here that Graves was severely traumatized by his service during World War I. One of the worst things about suffering from trauma is the fact that victims aren't able to talk about their memories. Part of the psychological therapy for trauma is to get people to put their experiences into words, because this helps to make those experiences a little more bearable. The less you're able to talk about them, the more they continue to make you sick. 
  • So, in other words, Graves here is talking about how talking about bad experiences is a way of making sense of them, which in turn makes them more bearable for us to deal with. Got it? Great. It all sounds good so far, but is there any more to it than that?
  • Well, we could mention the end rhyme in lines 7 and 8 ("night" and "fright"), which would indicate a rhyme scheme of ABCC.
  • Or we could just send you over to "Form and Meter" for more on that kind of stuff.

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