"Cloud Painter": What is the sky's role in the poem? Analyze this symbol's meaning.Use details and examples from the poem to develop a carefully reasoned analysis. At first, as you know, the sky...

"Cloud Painter": What is the sky's role in the poem? Analyze this symbol's meaning.

Use details and examples from the poem to develop a carefully reasoned analysis.

At first, as you know, the sky is incidental--

a drape, a backdrop for the trees and steeples.
Here an oak clutches a rock (already he works outdoors),
a wall buckles but does not break,
water pearls through a lock, a haywain trembles.

The pleasures of landscape are endless. What we see
around us should be enough.
Horizons are typically high and far away.

Still, clouds let us drift and remember. He is, after all,
a miller's son, used to trying
to read the future in the sky, seeing instead
ships, hornes, instruments of flight.
Is that his mother's wash flapping on the line?
His schoolbook, smudged, illegible?

In this period, the sky becomes significant.
Cloud forms are technically correct--mares' tails
sheep-in-the-meadow, thunderheads.
You can almost tell which scenes have been interrupted
by summer showers.

How his young wife dies.
His landscapes achieve belated success.
His is invited to join the Academy. I forget
whether he accepts or not.

In any case, the literal forms give way
to something spectral, nameless. His palette shrinks
ti gray, blue, white--the colors of charity.
Horizons sink and fade,
trees draw back till they are little more than frames,
then they too disappear.

Finally the canvas itself begins to vibrate
with waning light,
as if the wind could paint.
And we too, at last, stare into a space
which tells us nothing,
except that the world can vanish along with our need for it.

 

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englishteacher148's profile pic

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The sky in the poem, "Cloud Painter," represents the illusion of control that we have over our lives. The first stanza reads:

At first, as you know, the sky is incidental--

a drape, a backdrop for the trees and steeples

This suggests that the painter appears to paint the sky, but in reality, the sky is the empty space left by the painting of the rest of the landscape. When paining clouds, the painter is creating the illusion of sky. The clouds represent our effort to control our world, but the sky is the stark reminder that we do not have the power to create anything other than our own perception. 

The poem then continues:

In this period, the sky becomes significant.

Cloud forms are technically correct--mares' tails
sheep-in-the-meadow, thunderheads.
You can almost tell which scenes have been interrupted
by summer showers.

How his young wife dies.
His landscapes achieve belated success.
His is invited to join the Academy. I forget
whether he accepts or not.

These two stanzas remind the reader that even the most technically correct painting, representing life planning, is only the illusion of control. Even with perfect clouds, sky is not created. It always there, ever-present despite attempts at changing it. The death of the painter's young wife justifies this interpretation. Life, like the sky, cannot be controlled. 

kc4u's profile pic

Posted on

Jane Flanders' poem "Cloud Painter" was suggested by the paintings of John Constable. Before the painting begins, the canvas is like the sky, just 'incidental'. It is just a backdrop for the tall trees, or a buckling wall.

Then, gradually, the painter's interest in painting the endless 'pleasures of landscape' makes the sky 'significant'. What is seen on the earth around us stretched upto the distant horizon may be enough, but still the clouds drifting in the sky make all the difference:

Cloud forms are technically correct--mares' tails

sheep-in-the-meadow, thunderheads.

You can almost tell which scenes have been interrupted

by summer showers.

It is the cloud painter's passion to see his future in the sky that makes the sky a mirror reflecting the beautiful objects on the grounds below. The sky becomes a repository of his imagination, a remote version of his reality.

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