Period 1 Mrs. Gibbs Literature
October 22, 2008
A Commentary on Jane Kenyon’s The Letter
In Jane Kenyon’s The Letter, the poem describes the persona of a woman whose father has succumbed to illness as described by her mother’s letter. The focus of the poem is the way of which this woman deals with her grief by traversing to a remote area along with her dog and her “morbidity” (11). The beginning of the poem introduces the reader to the context of the situation whereby the letter, the subject of the title, informs the woman that her father has cancer. The tone of The Letter is established by the culmination of all of the different literary techniques used by the author. In order to paint a tone of voice Kenyon magnifies the emotion which passes through the woman’s mind by noting detail of imagery and physical action as the woman walks through the desolate woods.
In the first stanza the woman is recollecting about what she has read in the letter, this is the distressing news about her father’s illness in order to convey a sense mood being the despair of the situation. The way in which the first stanza is written is without emotional appeal, and only a focus upon the detail of the subject can determine the emotional aspect it is mechanical. The speaker does not find the news promising as implied by “Bad news arrives in her distinctive hand” (1). This is because the news is not new, it may have occurred before, and anything distinct means that it stands out as negative. The woman highlights the aspects which interest her most of what may be a detailed letter, “hair loss, bouts of sleeplessness and agitation at night, exhaustion during the day” (4-5) determines what thoughts are running through the speakers mind. The emphasis of the symptoms of the father’s illness implicates the emotional aspect of the speaker as distressed and worried about the health of her father. The author already by the first stanza alone implicates a negative tone of voice by the analyzation of the emotional appeal. In the next stanza the situation and imagery follows a dramatic change as the speaker reacts towards the letter.
The author brings about a drastic change of situation by transitioning to physical imagery in the following stanzas. The dramatic change was used in order to show the change in mentality of the speaker and that she is affected by the letter in stanza one. The author writes on the speaker, “I snap the dog’s blue leash into the D-ring of the dog’s collar, and we cross Route 4, then cut through the hayfield to the pond road” (7-10) which demonstrates a change of location, “Route 4…hayfield…pond road”, as a cause of the letter in stanza one. Also why does the speaker cross over into such detail on the imagery of her actions such as “the blue leash”, “the D-ring”, or “Route 4”? The speaker is attempting to suppress her thoughts in order to lessen the pain of the letter by thinking about other matters. Yet in line 11 the speaker releases a point of change and acknowledges her “morbidity” being her obsession with death because of the pain brought along with it. In the following stanza Kenyon lets her simple writing release the rich imagery of the speaker’s location.
The third stanza in contrast to the two previous ones has imagery that is of a seemingly positive connotation in due to the light imagery. The speaker describes the imagery, “The trees have leafed out-only just- and the air is misty with sap; so green, so brightly, richly succulent…golden drops” (12-16) the light imagery “green, brightly, succulent, golden” contrasts the current emotional condition created by the piece which was sad and stressful in due to the letter. This stanza serves to draw the reader out of the speaker’s mindset and into the reality that the world still moves on regardless of her father and just as the light imagery suggests, the woman should have a better outlook on her father’s health. Although his health had withered like the leaves of fall as inferred by “leafed out-only just” (12), treatments are underway and this isn’t the first time her father has been sick (2).
The following two stanzas are symbolic of the isolation as well as the future of the speaker in context to the situation stated in the letter of stanza one. In stanza four the speaker notes, “We come to the place where a neighbor is taking timber from his land…smell[s] of lacerated earth…His truck is gone” (17-21), this passage demonstrates the isolation of the speaker from the outside world as the neighbor’s truck is gone, and therefore symbolic to the woman’s father being gone if he were to die of cancer. In lines 22-23 the speaker notes that she “can see well up the slope, see ledges of rock and ferns breaking forth…” which is symbolic of the upward climb that the speaker must in order to overcome her grief and this also demonstrates that currently she is at the bottom of this mountain still suffering from the affects of the letter. The letter sets the mood of the poem by dampening the speaker’s spirit while in contrast nature is uplifting, as shown in the next stanza.
The speaker notes that nature is forthcoming and never ceases to grow, she states that “The place will heal itself in time,” (26) which relates to her imminent to the fact that overtime she will grow out of her morbidity, “But for now the dog rolls” (29-30) which demonstrates the current state of things being her grief yet the tranquility of nature and the dog not caring whether or not her emotions are disgruntled. The speaker concludes the poem in the last line with “we go the long way home” in order to express her continuous search for the contemplation of her worries which demonstrates the author’s purpose of emotion to express the tone.
As the poem is broken down into segments of emotional standpoint the reader can develop a sense of the overall tone the author intends to express. In literature tone is the feeling about the speaker’s subject and involves the incorporation of various literary techniques to create it. In Jane Kenyon’s The Letter the tone is magnified by the attention enacted towards detail and imagery. The overall tone is dark or metaphorically damp because of the speaker’s mood throughout the poem as well as the passage of time.