Study Guide

The Cool Web Stanza 4

By Robert Graves

Stanza 4

Lines 13-15

But if we let our tongues lose self-possession,
Throwing off language and its watery clasp
Before our death, instead of when death comes,

  • By this point in the poem, we might be a little bummed (to say the least) out about how our language dulls our greatest experiences. But on the other hand, Graves has warned us about how bad our bad experiences can be without language. (Hint: really bad.) Further, he says in stanza 4 that it might be possible to "let our tongues lose self-possession, / Throwing off language and its watery clasp." Or in other words, he seems to suggest that it might be possible to escape the cool web of language and to experience the world in a totally unfiltered way. 
  • Further, Graves says that it might be possible to throw off language "Before our death, instead of when death comes." What he seems to be saying here is that when we die, we totally escape the cool web of language. That makes sense, because you can't talk once you're dead. But on the other hand, Graves seems to be setting up a parallel between death and childhood here. The cool web is something you "fall" into once you learn language as a child; but it's also something you escape at the moment of your death. In this final stanza, though, Graves is saying it might be possible to escape the cool web of language even before you die. 
  • "But what exactly would that look like?" you might ask. "Good question," would be our reply. Then we'd all sit there for an awkward moment until we figured out that that's what Graves asks, too, when he starts off this stanza with the phrase, "But if…" Let's read on, gang.

Lines 16-18

Facing the wide glare of the children's day,
Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums,
We shall go mad no doubt and die that way.

  • As he closes the poem, we're getting a new rhyme scheme in this final stanza. First off, we have an extra couple of lines in this last stanza, compared to the first two. The end rhymes don't follow the original pattern either. We get rhyming in lines 15 and 17 ("comes" and "drum"), as well as lines 16 and 18 ("day" and "way"). Check out "Form and Meter" for what might be up with this twist.
  • Content-wise, Graves is still talking about what might happen if we ever learned to escape the web of language and experienced life in a way that was totally unfiltered by words. 
  • In this situation, we'd be "Facing the wide glare of the children's day." The idea of a "wide glare" here suggests that this experience might be totally overwhelming, like staring at the sun (health note: don't). It also gestures back to the start of the poem, where Graves talks about children as people who haven't yet learned to metaphorically "cool" their experiences with language. 
  • But it's not just the "wide day" we would face if we experienced the world without language. We'd face all of the things Graves has mentioned in this poem, and more, including the "rose, the dark sky and the drums." But when it comes times to say what would happen in this instance, Graves claims that "We shall go mad and die that way." Well that's just great.
  • But wait a second. Didn't Graves say at the end of stanza 3 that we "coldly die" because we're caught up in the cool web of language? But here, he also says that, if we totally experienced life in a totally intense, unfiltered way, we'd go crazy because we'd have no way of organizing our experience into something that made sense. Everything would hit us like a ton of bricks. It's like a giant lose-lose.
  • So here's the sad part: Graves is kind of saying here that as humans, we have to choose which way we want to die. We can either use language to dull our experiences like normal people, and slowly shrivel up over time because everything is so dull. Or we can try to let all of experience in at once, and go totally crazy and… also die. You might like to think that there's some sort of middle ground here—maybe in the experience of reading poetry? Maybe there's a silver lining after all. What do you say there, Mr. Graves? 
  • Um, nope. That might be the case, but our speaker doesn't seem to be exploring that option here. Bad times all around, gang.
  • Sorry.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...