What is a critical analysis of Ruth Pitter's poem "Stormcock in Elder"?

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A critical analysis of a text requires one to study and interpret it in a compelling way. In this poem, the speaker, perhaps a kind of hermit who lives away from the world's prying eyes, is searching for food and, instead, finds "celestial food." By celestial food, we might assume that he or she refers to spiritual sustenance rather than physical, in the sign of a stormcock, a kind of bird, singing in the elder tree above the broken roof. The speaker marvels over the care taken in the bird's creation: its wings and beak and claws, its bright colors and tuneful notes, how "strongly used, how subtly made," each sinew and sequin feather. The speaker also wonders how the bird looks so well-fed in February, and he compares the creature to the angel Gabriel in his brightness.

Pitter uses an ababcc rhyme scheme, meaning that the first and third lines share an end rhyme (the final words in the lines rhyme), the second and fourth lines share an end rhyme, and the fifth and sixth lines of each stanza rhyme. This construction seems as careful and purposeful as the creation of the stormcock is described to be. The different repeated sounds all work together, producing something that is even rather song-like in its musicality.

Pitter also uses a number of revealing metaphors and similes to describe the stormcock and the effect it has on the speaker. It is an "unfailing chorister," a player of "bagpipes," "dressed / Like a rich merchant at a feast," and "As bright as Gabriel," the angel. The song seems so lusty and clear, and the bird itself is so lovely with his "Gold sequins" and "shower / Of silver, [that it is] like a brindled flower." It inspires the speaker to think of springtime, when life is less lean and food more plentiful, and it even feels like a holy presence in his life.

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A critical analysis goes beyond summarizing the work and discusses themes, imagery, structure, technique, and other literary and formal aspects of the work. Critical analysis shows how the writer alludes to ideas that aren’t explicitly stated in the text. When reading “Stormcock in Elder" by Ruth Pitter, consider topics or questions raised by Pitter in her story of a person looking at a bird from inside their home. A critical analysis will expand on what—at first—seems like a simple narrative to find a deeper meaning supported by the text.

For example, repetition of a particular idea or image often indicates importance. Ritter references food and being full at least three times (in a poem that is only seven stanzas long). The poem begins with the speaker “groping . . . for bread.” The speaker isn’t just taking a piece of bread; the language indicates desperation, possibly due to hunger or possibly due to her wanting bread but not finding it. This bodily hunger is immediately contrasted with “celestial food” at the sight of the bird. The speaker later comments about the bird appearing “full-fed in February,” the coldest month of the year, when crops don’t grow and food is harder to come by. Ritter juxtaposes a hungry speaker with a well-fed bird.

What are the possible implications of these contrasting images? What might it suggest about the literal hunger for food or the basic needs of survival? Is there irony to the fact that a bird living in the wild isn’t hungry but the speaker, a human being sheltered in society, is desperate for food? How does this idea connect to Ritter’s lines about “One-half the world, or so they say / Knows not how half the world may live?”

Another possible area of analysis is Ritter’s lengthy description of the bird, both the physical appearance of its feathers, coloring, beak, etc. and some of the characteristics she ascribes to it, such as “soldier of fortune.” You might need to do some research into the meanings of these terms, which could help you expand your ideas into new territories. Some research into the author’s life may also provide ideas. Remember that a critical analysis reveals things about the work that aren’t immediately apparent, and might even seem like a stretch at first, but are worth exploring as long as you can support them with examples from the text.

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