Featured Poem: Stanzas by Thomas Hood

The Reader’s Learning and Quality Leader, Natalie Kaas Pontoppidan, shares her thoughts on this week’s Featured Poem, Stanzas by Thomas Hood.

What a way to begin a poem:

Farewell, Life! my senses swim
And the world is growing dim;

We’re in it straight away. I wonder who’s speaking here – who’s saying the farewell – and what does ‘Life!’ refer to? Is it one person’s life or does it seem more general than that? Why are the senses swimming, and where might they be swimming to? Furthermore, I am thinking about how I would read out loud: 

Colder, colder, colder still
Upward steals a vapor chill?

What’s the feeling in those two lines? I have quite a strong image in my head of this world that’s growing dim– almost apocalyptic. However, when I read the final lines in the first verse:

Strong the earthy odor grows –
I smell the mould above the rose!

I feel a sense of relief. The ‘I’ is still there, and is still taking in the world and its growing ‘earthy odor’. And then there is the rose…covered, but also still there. It makes me think that change doesn’t necessarily mean that the thing that was completely disappears – perhaps it is just less visible for a while.  

When reading the second verse, I find that I know exactly what that feels like this time of year: 

Welcome, Life! the Spirit Strives!
Strength returns and hope revives!;

In the past few years I’ve become moved by spring in a way I did not used to. Perhaps I’ve had to experience quite a few in order to become familiar with it and to realise that I can count on it as something stable – despite what else might be going on in my life. When I experience ‘O’er the earth there comes a bloom’, I feel so grateful that it’s all coming back!

However, I am curious to know if we all experience it as

Sunny light for sullen gloom
Warm perfume for vapor cold—

Is it necessarily as simple as winter being dim, cloudy and cold while spring is strength, sun and the disappearance of cloudy fears and shadows? I’d be really interesting in reading this poem with a group and take in all these sense impressions while also speaking about what seasons feel like to us.  

Stanzas

Farewell, Life! my senses swim,       
And the world is growing dim;
Thronging shadows cloud the light,   
Like the advent of the night;  
Colder, colder, colder still,             
Upward steals a vapor chill;  
Strong the earthy odor grows—        
I smell the mould above the rose!     

Welcome, Life! the Spirit strives!       
Strength returns and hope revives;           
Cloudy fears and shapes forlorn       
Fly like shadows at the morn;
O’er the earth there comes a bloom; 
Sunny light for sullen gloom, 
Warm perfume for vapor cold—                
I smell the rose above the mould!

by Thomas Hood

Would you like the opportunity to read this or other poems in a Shared Reading group?

If you like the idea of listening along to a story or poem, why not come along to a Shared Reading group? We run groups across the UK, you can find one near you here.

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