Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The theme of renunciation rings strongly in this poem, balanced with equal strength by the sense of peace and dignity that comes with acceptance and knowledge of what is being renounced, and pleasure in the alternative gains that renunciation of physical pleasures may bring. In the first stanza, for example, the speaker may belittle the possibility of finding much joy in “earthly things”; the listener’s mind, however, in endowing time and place with the “grace” (of attention, esteem, or memory), which mind and imagination can give, will actually create a much richer experience than the meager joys that any mere “thing” can afford. The contrast being drawn between “thing” and “thought” focuses the speaker’s argument. The promise of future serenity emerges through the sentence structure in the description of the speaker’s mind as the peaceful ground of an experience that will happen of itself: “Joy” will spontaneously “spring” from the mind, as “time and place will take” the listener’s thought in an equally spontaneous experience of “grace.”

The second stanza continues the sense of peaceful detachment from struggle, even though the struggle would have brought joy that—in the past, in the listener’s imagination—would have had almost physically painful effects. There is the merest hint of the figure of cupid in the figure of joy that could “pierce you to the heart,” but the clichéd picture remains...

(The entire section is 600 words.)