On a View of Pasadena from the Hills Analysis

Yvor Winters

The Poem

“On a View of Pasadena from the Hills” is made up of seven stanzas of varying length written in heroic couplets (units of two lines of rhymed iambic pentameter that are self-contained in meaning and terminate in a full stop). The physical setting is the home of the poet’s father, a man in late middle age. The speaker may be identified as a version of the poet, a man in his early thirties. As the poem begins, the poet notes the subtlety of the transition from night to day at dawn: “No light appears, though dark has mostly gone.” There are no sharp distinctions between one stage and the other, yet there are boundaries and divisions. The garden is arranged in terraces supported by concrete. The poet’s mind shifts to the past as he notices what is not there. The palms of his childhood have disappeared, and this observation gives rise to a vivid memory of walking in this area before the changes. However, images of “powdered ash, the sift of age” suggest that impermanence and mortality had their place in the design of things even then.

In the fifth stanza, the place is specifically identified and the poet’s father is situated in that place, his home, his “phantasy of Paradise.” He is also situated in time. He is approaching the last stages of a life that has included some success but has been ultimately unfulfilling, each “stepgained” matched by a “loss of heart,” at least in the eyes of his grown son. The poet’s father is also...

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Forms and Devices

The heroic couplet, the verse form adopted by Winters for “On a View of Pasadena from the Hills,” dominated English poetry in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the period often referred to as the neoclassical age in English literature. It largely fell out of favor in the course of the nineteenth century, although it was still occasionally and effectively employed. By the 1930’s, when Winters wrote this poem, the form had been largely abandoned as tied inextricably to the ideologies of earlier eras. Thus Winters went against the grain of contemporary poetic practice, a move he was never unwilling to make. In its days of dominance, the heroic couplet was often put to satirical or didactic use by poets such as John Dryden and Alexander Pope, its most revered masters. Winters’s application of the form, however, is more reminiscent of the practice of George Crabbe, who emphasized the form’s descriptive and expository possibilities. Robert Bridges, one of the few poets of the nineteenth century who excelled in couplets and a poet Winters greatly admired, may also have served as a model.

One of the attractions the heroic couplet may have for a poet is the discipline it imposes on the expression of feeling. Another is the possibility it affords for subtlety. Because the rules are so rigorous, the slightest variation can assume expressive power. For Winters, the poet must match emotion precisely to motive, to the event or occasion that gives...

(The entire section is 493 words.)