Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 417
An early work that is one of the few life-affirming Plath poems is “Black Rook in Rainy Weather,” a description of a bird in a tree that uses terms of the heavenly (“angels,” “radiance,” and “miracles”) to describe things of this earth. One of the most frequently anthologized early poems,...
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An early work that is one of the few life-affirming Plath poems is “Black Rook in Rainy Weather,” a description of a bird in a tree that uses terms of the heavenly (“angels,” “radiance,” and “miracles”) to describe things of this earth. One of the most frequently anthologized early poems, it demonstrates the gift of the visual. Like many of the poems in The Colossus, it is formally controlled. It uses a unique stanza form of five-line stanzas with repeating rhymes of Abcde throughout the poem; off-rhymes are common. (For example, the a-rhymes are “there,” “fire,” “desire,” “chair,” “honor,” “flare,” “fear,” and “occur” from the beginning to the end of the poem.) This pattern helps to convey the impression that this is a diminished world with haphazard arrangements.
Seeing a “wet black rook/ Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain,” the observer reflects that she no longer looks for intention in nature. She no longer believes that there is some kind of “design” in the world, that natural phenomena bear God’s signature. She admits to wanting some kind of communication with the Other: “I desire,/ Occasionally, some backtalk/ From the mute sky.” Yet she is willing to accept the physical delight of the occasional natural revelation in its place, the “minor light” that may transform an ordinary object into a vision: “As if a celestial burning took/ Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then.”
It is these unexpected transformations, these “hallowing[s]” of the daily, that redeem time “by bestowing largesse, honor,/ One might say love.” The rook, with its shining feathers, may be reminiscent of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s windhover, whose beauty expresses God’s grandeur, but the rook’s transcendence is less clearly attributed. Still, it is a redemption for the watcher, who hopes to be relieved from boredom and despair by beauty.
The poem concludes that, despite the dullness of the ordinary, miracles do occur “If you care to call those spasmodic/ Tricks of radiance miracles.” The observer realizes that it is her part to be observant, to endure “the long wait for the angel,/ For that rare, random descent.” Even this poem is not overly optimistic: The scene is rainy, the weather “desultory,” and the season one “of fatigue.” The miracles of transformation can be neither predicted nor controlled. Nevertheless, they do occur, and they redeem time from emptiness, filling it with purpose, even love. Within this limited affirmation, the poem becomes one of Plath’s more positive statements.