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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Throughout “Janet Waking,” language and situation bespeak the fairy-tale quality of the work. One important device in the poem is allusion. “Beautifully Janet slept” recalls the innocent sleep of Snow White and Rose Red. The child wakes not merely to full sun but to a time that is “deeply morning.” “Beautifully” and “deeply” suggest the rhythm and the tone of fairy tales. The fairy-tale motif continues as the father notes that he “would have kissed each curl of his shining baby.” Just as the sun sets out on a new day, so does the child of this fairy-tale farm world. The phrase “Running across the world upon the grass” also locates the child in the land of fairy tales. That which intrudes upon her world is “the forgetful kingdom of death.” The archaic term “alas” also suggests a past time, a fairy-tale world.

Another important device is juxtaposition. The poem juxtaposes realism with innocence and idealism. To the little girl, the pet is “her dainty-feathered hen.” In the father’s description, the chicken has an “old bald head.” “Janet Waking” also juxtaposes formal diction with simple and direct Anglo-Saxon English. Ransom’s choice of “transmogrifying” to describe the bee forces a reader—even a casual reader—to recognize unwitting power. Just as the venom of the bee communicates its rigor, so does the word “transmogrify” communicate the status of the event. The pathos of the unsuspecting...

(The entire section is 594 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Brooks, Cleanth. “John Crowe Ransom: As I Remember Him.” American Scholar 58, no. 2 (Spring, 1989): 211-233.

Cowan, Louise. The Fugitive Group: A Literary History. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959.

Howard, Maureen. “There Are Many Wonderful Owls in Gambier.” Yale Review 77 (Summer, 1988): 521-527.

Malvasi, Mark G. The Unregenerate South: The Agrarian Thought of John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Donald Davidson. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997.

Modern American Poetry Web site. “John Crowe Ransom.”

Quinlan, Kieran. John Crowe Ransom’s Secular Faith. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.

Rubin, Louis D., Jr. “The Wary Fugitive: John Crowe Ransom.” Sewanee Review 82 (1974): 583-618.

Young, Thomas Daniel. Gentleman in a Dustcoat: A Biography of John Crowe Ransom. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976.