The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“To the Holy Spirit” is written in rhyming trimeter divided into four stanzas of varying lengths. The expansion of the stanzas—from ten lines in the first, to twelve lines in the second and third, to fourteen in the fourth—reflects the development of the subject of the poem. The title suggests a prayer or a petition to the Holy Spirit. This part of the Holy Trinity traditionally is a source of hope, inspiration, forgiveness, and consolation for humans. The Holy Spirit is the mediator between God and humans. The poem is written in the first person, and the speaker is calling on the Holy Spirit to come to his aid as he tries to believe in God.

The poem’s epigraph, “from a deserted graveyard in the Salinas Valley,” sets the poem in California. It also allows the speaker the opportunity to meditate on life and death in a serene environment. The graveyard is abandoned, and the speaker of the poem has arrived there in late morning. Once there, the speaker observes how nature and death possess powers that humans cannot easily comprehend. The graveyard setting lends itself to contemplations of the limits of reason and ultimately of human mortality. While the speaker does not seek immortality, he does appeal to the Holy Spirit to guide him in understanding how God and he can coexist in the world.

In the first stanza, the speaker arrives in the graveyard on a hazy, not too warm summer day. He seems to be surprised to have encountered the...

(The entire section is 428 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Imagery, language, and meter are carefully chosen to produce the meaning and effect of “To the Holy Spirit.” Winters was particularly attracted to the barren ordered beauty of the desert landscape and the open spaces of New Mexico and California. He spent his twenties in New Mexico and later moved to California; he was a college professor at Stanford University for over thirty years. The images of the desert, with its wordplay on “deserted,” are created in the first two stanzas of the poem. They yield a sense of limitlessness and some discomfort in the dry heat, dust, and sand. Although the poem has an emphasis on landscape, it is not a Romantic poem. Instead of images of lush, fertile, friendly nature, this landscape is harsh, yet uniquely beautiful; the mood is tense, and the speaker struggles to find reconciliation in nature.

The language is clear and direct. The use of older forms of address in stanza 3, “Thou,” “thee,” and “thine,” lends seriousness to the speaker’s reflections. They carry the weight of tradition. The image patterns in the poem move from obscurity to clarity. In the first stanza the haze blocks the speaker’s ability to see the vista he suspects is before him. In the second, with the advent of noontime, the haze begins to clear. By the third stanza he sees more clearly in his mind the nature of his problem with belief in God, and in the fourth his physical eyes and his mind’s eye see the truth of his situation.


(The entire section is 603 words.)