This poem appears in the book Into the Wild. Please answer the questions that follow.
-Robinson Jeffers, “Wise Men in Their Bad Hours”
1. Identify the metaphors in this poem. List them here. What tone (attitude) is conveyed by each?
2. Identify the personification in this poem. What non-human item is given human characteristics? What effect does that have on the mood of the poem?
John Krakauer's Into the Wild tells the story of Chris McCandless, who tragically tries to survive in the Alaskan Wilderness. He is confident, but unprepared, and has a difficult end.
Metaphor: Death's a fierce meadowlark.
The tone could be considered reverent. To compare death to a bird is to acknowledge its rightful place in nature. To call it fierce, which is surprising for a meadowlark, is to say that regardless of its natural importance, it can be terrifying.
Metaphor: The mountains are dead stone.
Actually this one is debatable. One might say that this is not a metaphor because mountains really are composed of dead stone, therefore it’s a literal statement. However, I have included it here because Jeffers follows this line with some personification involving the mountains, which turns the whole idea into a metaphor. The tone here could be considered awe, or amazement. Mountains are an intimidating sight, especially if you are associating them with death, as this poem does.
Personification: . . . in their insolent quietness
These words refer to the mountains, and ascribe to them a certain attitude. The word “insolent” communicates the idea that the mountains really don’t care much about what happens to man, they are a part of nature, a quiet part, which is indifferent to humanity.
This personification creates a mood of . . . ? This is a subjective question. Ten different people might give ten different, but defensible, answers. I would say it creates, or at least supports, a mood of foreboding about the inevitability of man’s eventual decline. Sooner or later, nature will reclaim the Earth, and there will not be anything that man can do about it. Others may not agree with this mood, but we can interpret things in different ways as long as we can reasonably support why.