Thomas Kinsella

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The first stanza contains a description of a winter’s dawn in a cold country house. The house is beside a dug garden. The poet is aware of the mixed smells of clay and stale bedroom air. As dawn occurs, the lamplight fades. He interrupts dressing himself to shave. He begins to daydream about some favourite image, maybe a sexual fantasy. Then he catches a disturbing reflection of himself in the mirror. As he dries himself with a towel, he notices his tired looking eye, his twisted mouth. He is shocked and his eye holds his gaze, ‘riveted’.

In the second stanza, Kinsella begins to think. He realises he has to learn something, to face some new fact about himself. Just as the garden outside the room faces renewed growth after the decay of winter, the poet has some spiritual growing up to do. He sees the signs of his physical decay. He imagines a spiritual mirror in his soul. He examines it and concludes that his youth has passed. He is about thirty-three, the age of Christ at his peak, when Christ suffered on the cross. Kinsella is concerned that he hasn’t reached human perfection and never will. Kinsella notices how the gardener has cut branches off the fruit trees in the garden. This rough pruning of the old trees caused them suffering. They had to endure it. It probably reminds Kinsella of the crucifixion of Christ. But the trees are awakened, probably with buds. They were hacked, in order to provide better fruit. Christ’s suffering also had positive meaning. Kinsella imagines that human aging is like this rough pruning of the trees. He wonders if human suffering can have any positive meaning. Christ’s suffering saves souls and the fruit trees’ suffering leads to a good harvest. He asks how human flesh can avoid shivering in fear, since it is more brutally assaulted by time, ‘span for span’, than the fruit trees by the gardener. With a sour taste in his mouth, Kinsella tries to compose himself as he folds his towel. He is no longer young. Unlike the trees, he...
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