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What is a summary for the poem "Oft in the Stilly Night" by Thomas Moore?

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khulud | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 14, 2010 at 8:55 PM via web

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What is a summary for the poem "Oft in the Stilly Night" by Thomas Moore?

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted December 15, 2011 at 3:00 PM (Answer #1)

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Thomas Moore canvasses two periods (past and present) and kinds of memories (boyhood and present) in "Oft in the Stilly Might." The first stanza begins with memories of boyhood, and the last ends with present circumstances. The theme of death carries throughout. Two periods of memories occupy the first stanza. Death is first presented here in shining eyes that are now "dimmed and gone." It is next presented as "cheerful hearts now broken"; Moore transitions from boyhood to present time by switching from past to present tense in the space of two lines:

Now dimmed and gone, [past tense]
The cheerful hearts now broken! [present tense]

The second stanza brings near-present memories of "friends, so link'd together." Death is presented here as friends who "fall / Like leaves in wintry weather." Death is again presented in a personal connection and in a threatening way, threatening the poetic persona (who is accepted as being Moore himself) in the lines:

Whose garland's dead,
And all but he departed!

The opening lines become the refrain, with a variation of "Thus" on the opening "Oft" when the lines form the stanza-end refrain:

Oft [Thus] in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
Of other days around me;

In conjunction with the tenses changes shown above and the personalization indicated by "Whose"and "he," the repeated lines bring the binding chains nearer and nearer to the persona thus creating a sense of impending doom that grows as the "other days around me" allude to nearer and nearer times:

Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garland's dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain has bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

Having explained this, the summary of the poem is that a speaker, facing a sense of doom accompanied by "chains" that bind, takes a verbal journey through the thoughts that engage his mind "in the stilly night / [Before] Slumber's chain has bound" him. He thinks of the light of "Fond memory" of "boyhood's years" and the loving words spoken. His thoughts then compare this to the absence of loving friends with "cheerful hearts now broken" in death.

Note that "Slumber's chain" that binds is a metaphor for psychological bonds of emotional chains, as in mourning for his dead children. With this in mind, in the end lines, his thoughts lean toward adulthood's memories of "friends" who "around [him] fall." Alone, as in "Some banquet-hall deserted," he feels the chains encroaching upon him--even as night's slumber encroaches--as "Sad Memory brings the [memory of] light / Of other days." [Note, Thomas Moore (1779-1852) is not to be confused with Thomas More (1477-1535) who was beheaded for treason.]

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