The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Watchers” is a short, forty-line poem in eight five-line stanzas reminiscent of the medieval French form known as a cinquain, which used a five-line stanza with a variety of meters and rhyme schemes. It was written in February, 1932, but not published until 1945. The speaker or persona of the poem is an observer who is watching a sleeping world from his window late at night. A yellow clock face and a green pier light eerily illuminate “a new imprudent year” as the night’s silence “buzzes” in the poet’s ear. Except for the clock, the light, and the buzzing silence, the poet is alone in his window; “The lights of near-by families are out.”

The speaker then observes various objects and phenomena in the night, describing them in a manner that invokes a feeling of watchfulness and apprehension. He describes a dormant lilac bush as being “like a conspirator” that “Shams dead upon the lawn.” The “Great Bear/ Hangs as a portent over Helensburgh,” and the “influential quiet twins” (a reference to the Castor and Pollux constellation) “look leniently” upon the sleeping populace.

The scene becomes more ominous when the speaker describes the “keepers of a wild estate” as stocky men carrying guns. On the surface, these keepers are there to ensure the safety of the town’s estates, yet they keep the peace “with a perpetual threat” to any intruder. The unknown intruders are given the characteristics of...

(The entire section is 433 words.)