The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

A short poem in free verse, “Meeting-House Hill” contains a single stanza composed of twenty-five lines. Although the title may be taken literally because Amy Lowell is describing the scene of an actual meeting house at the top of a hill, it also serves as a metaphor for the convergence of two cultures. The poem is written in the first person. As the speaker of the poem, Lowell addresses the reader directly, sharing her experience of observing the beauty of two vividly described scenes, one real and one imagined.

The first fifteen lines focus on the scene immediately before Lowell: the blue bay, the church in the city square, the spire reaching toward the sky. In line 16 this perspective changes as Lowell imagines seeing a clipper ship in the distance. The final nine lines describe the imaginary ship in as much detail as the actual scene that lies before her.

Lowell shows that the simple charm of an ordinary New England church matches the more exotic beauty of a “tea-clipper” returning from China. In so doing she moves the reader from the familiar reality of the meeting house to the imagined enchantment of the ship with its cargo of “green and blue porcelain.” Focusing her attention on the ship and the “Chinese coolie” on its deck, she seems to wonder how the church would appear to him as he gazes at it from the ship. As Lowell reflects on the beauty of the two scenes, she shares with the reader the intense emotion she...

(The entire section is 403 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In “Meeting-House Hill” Lowell employs a technique that became her trademark: word painting. The visual images provide an impression of reality that approximates the style used by Impressionist painters of the nineteenth century. Impressionist painting was characterized by short brush strokes, bright colors, and the play of light on objects. Lowell provides a word picture of the church through direct observation of the natural elements. Through her powers of intuition she extends the emotional experience to include the depiction of the ship that exists only in her mind.

Alliteration is the poem’s most obvious poetic device. Lowell employs a variety of alliterative techniques to achieve a harmonious effect. In the phrases “blue bay beyond” and “shrill and sweet to me like the sudden springing of a tune,” repetition of the initial consonant sound occurs in words within the same line. A more subtle form of alliteration occurs in the poem’s first three lines, each of which ends with a word beginning with the letter t: “I must be mad, or very tired,/ When the curve of a blue bay beyond a railroad track/ Is shrill and sweet to me like the sudden springing of a tune.”

In other instances alliteration comes from repetition of initial consonant sounds from previous lines. The following passage, for example, compares the church to the ancient Parthenon of Greece and later refers to the “pillars of its portico”: “Amazes...

(The entire section is 513 words.)