Themes and Meanings

Echoing the dominant images of fire and fertility, “Poem for an Anniversary” is an anthem of destruction and creation. Espoused by his politically leftist comrades, Day Lewis promotes in this poem the paradox of total dismemberment of a state in order to rebuild it under a new regime. The persistent vision of volcano and fire reinforces an image of the phoenix of a new government rising from the ashes of the complete destruction of the old order. The volcano itself is a symbol of both debacle and miracle. Its eruption and the resultant lava and spume of ash set the earth aflame and choke out all life; but it is that same volcanic action that creates midocean atolls, providing a resting place for birds and animals that eventually settle on them to create an island of life where before there were only seas.

Images of living and mating are evident throughout the poem, except in the opening stanza in which the seas leap “from their beds” and the “World’s bedrock” is deemed “terrible” in the light of the abundance of lava. Yet the persona assures readers that “Now it is not so.” Soon there is a “mating in air” that is evaluated as neither “foul” nor “fair” love but rather as a natural phenomenon. Soon, however, prayers are raised, perhaps signifying the onset of enlightened thought and action. An “us” appears, the advent of rational life, and soon humanity experiences “Love’s best,” resulting in their “linked lives,” a people joined in tending the new crop of ideas in a fine and cogent climate. Even though these changes are wrought under violent circumstances, the reader is instructed to admire, not fear, the incipience. They may seem terrifying at the beginning, but they should be remembered for their reproductive qualities, much like the farmer who burns his field, not to destroy it but to make way for the next year’s crop.