How does Gillian Clarke use language effectively to create a melancholic mood, for example in "Lament"?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Aside from vocabulary, which highlights melancholy words and depressive phrases like,

  • pulsing burden
  • nest of sickness
  • funeral silk
  • shadow
  • mortal stain
  • closed border
  • uniform of fire

Clarke also uses repetition and unusual rhymes such as:

  • alliterative rhyme
  • imperfect rhyme
  • internal rhyme
  • assonant and consonant rhyme

Clarke's vocabulary choices (part of diction) lend a dark shade of meaning that imbues the poem directly with a melancholy mood. Repetition occurs at the head of each line except for one that begins "in." The other lines all begin either "For" or "the." This reoccurring monosyllabic pattern that is so bleak adds flow to the melancholy mood. The use of unusual rhymes creates a feeling of disharmony that further produces a mood of melancholy.

A good example of alliterative rhyme is found in the five lines that end with sickness/silk/sand/sea/stain. Alliteration is the matching of initial consonants in a set of words. It is also called head rhyme because the initial consonant is the head of the word.

For her eggs laid in their nest of sickness.
For the cormorant in his funeral silk,
the veil of iridescence on the sand,
the shadow on the sea.
For the ocean’s lap with its mortal stain.

Two good examples of imperfect rhyme, which are both also line-internal instead of line-end rhymes, are:

  1. turtle with her pulsing burden, ...
  2. For the ocean’s lap with its mortal stain. / ... the closed border.

In the first example, the internal rhyme between turtle/burden is in one line, and the rhyme is imperfect rhyme since it is only the vowel diphthong "ur" that rhymes.

In the second, the internal rhyme between mortal and line-end border crosses lines; each word is in a separate line. It is imperfect with the rhyme on "or." An internal rhyme occurs within lines, whether randomly between lines or in a pattern in the same line. An imperfect rhyme (also called slant rhyme) is an approximate rhyme, rhyming only the vowels.

A good example of both assonant and consonant rhyme is that between sickness/silk. Here, the two consonant sounds "s" and "k" rhyme for consonant rhyme, while the "i" vowels rhyme for assonant rhyme. In addition, sickness/silk represents a semirhyme since one has an extra syllable: "-ness."