The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 262

“Poem for an Anniversary” is a brief poem of twenty-four lines divided into four sestets. Each stanza is made up of a pattern of short and long lines; the first and last lines are terse and repeat a sentencelike format, and each stanza is, in itself, a complete thought. The poem gives the reader a command (“admit then and be glad”) at the onset of each stanza, and each order is reminiscent of an action associated with an anniversary celebration: admit, remember, admire, and survey.

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The anniversary of the title is never specifically indicated, yet the reader is left with a sense of worldwide chronology. There are references to boiling lava, storms, and “giant lightning” that evoke images of the beginning of time. In fact, the beginning of the poem notes the end of a prehistoric age: “Our volcanic age is over.” The second and third stanzas introduce ages “made for peace” in which religious and philosophical thought exists. These lines eschew former times, times in which “foul” love existed, times of evil, thoughtless procreation. The final stanza leads the reader through a new world with a balmy climate in which plants and people flourish. This new world is “Love’s best,” a fecund place and time with fields of grain harvested by a community of people with “linked lives.” These inhabitants are the survivors of fire and storm. They know the value of the rain clouds for engendering fertility and growth rather than causing havoc and wanton destruction. Each anniversary, each harvest, is important because it marks the continuance of stability.

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 476

The first two stanzas contain striking imagery of violent earthquakes, tidal waves, and “terrible lava” flows. Then clouds appear that reflect “the fire below,” and “Shuddering electric storms” unleash a cooling water that tames the lava’s deep furrows with peaceful streams. This rather pedantic, at times frightening, picture is broken up by Cecil Day Lewis’s use of alliteration. Much like an Old English poet, he makes use of a repetition of sounds to reinforce the imitating message in each stanza. Thus the reader is dually instructed to “admit then and be glad” that the pre-Jurassic period, with its “bedrock boiling,” has come to a close. Similarly, the fire storms that form the earth’s cooling crust are to be remembered without regret as a necessary evil, a coupling of “foul or fair” nature that destroys as it creates.

In the second half of the poem, the countryside becomes a place to admire. Plants provide shade, and dangerous boulders lie at rest, providing “landmarks” for travelers. The earth’s vista is no longer a fearful place but rather a “contour fine” ready for the plow and the seed. This is an area where the waterways go “Hotfoot to havoc” to provide an aquifer for future fields where before only “the lava went.” Finally, the earth has “grain to grow,” tilled by the “linked lives” of those who have taught the “lightning to lie low.” Yet the author also uses puns and personification to allow the poem a little laughter amid its serious story. The “rent” the earth must pay for its fertility is its own destruction. Initially, seas leap from the ocean floor, clouds dream, and storms “shudder,” but finally lightning crouches in obedience to humankind.

There is a curious rhyme scheme in the poem: The third and sixth lines of each stanza end with an o sound. This does not seem particularly significant until it is observed in relation to the overall subject of the poem: the destruction and re-creation of “The little O, th’ earth” (William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, 1606-1607). With its repeating o sounds, the poem reverberates with the message that the resurrection of society is a continuous process, one that must be endured if humankind is to advance rather than decay. Indeed, that image is echoed in the choice of o-rhyming words. In the first stanza, the earth is shaken “from head to toe,” but only temporarily. The poem goes on to assure the reader that this tremor did not last. The second section is a reminder of the “fire below” that all “used to know” but that is no longer evident. In fact, where there was once fire and molten rock, now “Cooler rivers flow.” By the close of the poem, the awful discord on earth has lain “low,” leaving time and space for a harvest to “grow.”

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Themes