The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Janet Waking” is in seven stanzas, four lines each, with the first and fourth lines rhymed and the second and third lines rhymed (abba rhyme scheme). The title suggests the coming of age theme that is evident in the poem. As is true of any moment of understanding in the works of John Crowe Ransom, the formal constraint of the tight form reinforces the recognition of people’s position in the larger universe: operating within a strict schema and perceiving the abstraction and formlessness of the universe (“far beyond the daughters of men”). The poem is written from the point of view of the father, “Who would have kissed each curl of his shining baby.” He is the only adult whose thoughts the reader is given. Beginning as an observation of a beloved child and including the first-person perspective in the final verse paragraph (“Janet implored us”), the poem moves from the intensely personal to the universal.

“Janet Waking” begins with a scene familiar to any parent. Ransom’s poem follows the child through her morning rituals. The complication is suggested in the opening lines when the child, thinking of her pet hen, wants “To see how it had kept.” The end of the third stanza informs the reader that the hen had died. The centerpiece of the poem is the fourth stanza, in which the bee sting is described, a stanza in which Ransom juxtaposes a “transmogrifying bee” and “Chucky’s old bald head,” foreshadowing the...

(The entire section is 423 words.)