Commentary on “Elegy for Jane”


In this poem the persona speaks “the words” of love for Jane, his student who was “thrown by a horse”. This love that he feels for the girl, though, is described as neither that of a lover nor that of a father but is clearly very strong because of the way in which he reacts to her death. With the use of continuous references to nature, the author creates a harmonious depiction of his student and delineates how this event has affected him emotionally.


“I remember” are key words to analyzing this poem for they emphasize how the images of Jane are part of the persona’s past. An elegy is generally written to mourn the death of someone and therefore most probably Jane died as a result of the fall. The first image that the author develops is the hair which, with the use of a simile, he compares to tendrils. He then proceeds to the eyes and finally to her mouth from which he says to hear her voice. The persona cannot stop thinking of her and one image leads to another almost to give us a more global view of what she was like. It is evident that the persona is very attached to this girl for her smile and voice are able of changing everything into beauty.


In the poem we see two aspects of Jane: when she is happy and when she is sad. The first stanza deals with the young woman’s happiness, underlined by the frequent use of words with positive connotations such as “happy” and “delight”. The joy she creates and experiences is immense for even the shade sings with her. Her voice is so beautiful that it affects everything surrounding her: like the small circular waves formed when something is thrown in water, her joy is dispersed everywhere. The use of the sounds “l” and “t” render this first stanza very melodical and contribute to the idea of love and happiness the images suggest. Even the hidden mold sings along with her as the whispers of leaves turns into kisses.


If in the first stanza the poet focuses on her joy, in the second he depicts how extreme her sadness is: when she was sad, she would cast herself down into such a pure death. The word “pure” indicates how she is both extreme happiness and extreme sadness and cannot live something in between. This idea of extreme is further emphasized by the use of “clearest water” which she disturbs by stirring. The fact that “even a father could not find her” shows how deep she casts herself and how impossible it is to find a remedy to her pain. The images used in this stanza suggest some sort of contrast between harmony and pain: while a cheek is soft, a piece of straw is very rough.


Jane is almost described by the author as a nymph of the woods for she is in perfect harmony with nature. With the first image of the tendrils the persona shows how strongly linked nature and her actually are. The link between them is so strong that she is described, with the use of a metaphor, as an animal of the forest, or rather a wren. The use of a metaphor after that of a simile could indicate that there is more than a bond between these two entities and that they are actually the same thing. The persona sees in nature all the characteristics of Jane, which are not strong enough to console him. The stones, wet by water, or perhaps tears, and the moss, lit by the last lights of the day, are not able of comforting him or replacing her.


The use of three bird images delineates how wild and free this girl was and continues to emphasize her connection with nature. She is a “mnaimed darling” who can no longer wake up for she is eternally asleep. The poet concludes by describing the grave as damp, a characteristic which brings the reader back to the beginning of the poem. It was the moist tombstone to remind him of the “limp and damp neck curls” and to remind him of how much loves Jane