In your arms was still delight,
Quiet as a street at night;
And thoughts of you, I do remember,
Were green leaves in a darkened chamber,
Were dark clouds in a moonless sky.
Love, in you, went passing by,
Penetrative, remote, and rare,
Like a bird in the wide air,
And, as the bird, it left no trace
In the heaven of your face.
In your stupidity I found
The sweet hush after a sweet sound.
All about you was the light
That dims the greying end of night;
Desire was the unrisen sun,
Joy the day not yet begun,
With tree whispering to tree,
Without wind, quietly.
Wisdom slept within your hair,
And Long-Suffering was there,
And, in the flowing of your dress,
And when you thought, it seemed to me,
Infinitely, and like a sea,
About the slight world you had known
Your vast unconsciousness was thrown. . . .
O haven without wave or tide!
Silence, in which all songs have died!
Holy book, where hearts are still!
And home at length under the hill!
O mother quiet, breasts of peace,
Where love itself would faint and cease!
O infinite deep I never knew,
I would come back, come back to you,
Find you, as a pool unstirred,
Kneel down by you, and never a word,
Lay my head, and nothing said,
In your hands, ungarlanded;
And a long watch you would keep;
And I should sleep, and I should sleep!
The poem is about beautiful memories of the past and great emotions of love expressed for the poet’s mother, who is also the central theme of this poem. The speaker in the poem is the poet himself, who shares his nostalgia with the readers. The title is “Retrospect” that means a review of past events and memories. The tone or mood of the poem is inspirational in the beginning and middle but turns melancholic in the end. The poet begins the poem by recalling the comfort he felt in his mother’s arms in beautiful words saying “In your arms was still delight, / Quiet as a street at night.”
He uses several similes to describe his memories, “Quiet as a street at night” which means, he felt such comfort, delight and security in her arms that all the tension he felt fly away and he felt at peace. He adds that her thoughts “Were green leaves in a darkened chamber, / Were dark clouds in a moonless sky.” The love of his mother was quite unique and protective, deep and wide, “Like a bird in the wide air, / And, as the bird, it left no trace.” Again, the speaker is using a simile here “Like a bird” to compare the depth of his mother’s love with flying birds. He is trying to portray a beautiful relationship between a mother and child but the child is missing the presence of his mother that was a source of hopefulness for him and a ray of light “All about you was the light.” The poet made use of personification in these lines where light is personified as a mother that removed the darkness in his life. Then, the desire is personified as “unrisen sun” and finally wisdom is personified as a human being “Wisdom slept within your hair”.
He further states that her dress used to be very soft and that whenever he thinks about her, she manifests her presence as a source of inspiration for him; her love had no boundaries or limits which he describes by using another simile here,” Infinitely, and like a sea.” However, when the poet thinks about the present time and does not find his mother anymore (she died), he feels dejected and this world, which used to be a haven for him with her presence, is a haven no more -“O haven without wave or tide! / Silence, in which all songs have died!” In the end he wishes to die so he can be with her, “I would come back, come back to you, / And I should sleep, and I should sleep!”
This poem has 40 lines divided into two stanzas. The first stanza has 26 lines while the second has 14 lines. It follows an alternative pattern of iambic tetrameter and trochaic tetrameter as in “Quiet as a street at Night; / And thoughts of you, I do remember.” The rhyme scheme is external, rhythmic and regular as AABBCC that runs in the entire poem:
In your arms was still delight, A
Quiet as a street at night; A
And thoughts of you, I do remember, B
Were green leaves in a darkened chamber, B
Internal Rhyme is used only once “Lay my head, and nothing said” while the rest of the poem has external rhyme. Enjambment is used several times in the poem, which is the running of an idea from one line to the next line, such as “All about you was the light / That dims the greying end of night.” Hypotaxis is also found at different places such as these; “And thoughts of you, I do remember, / Were green leaves in a darkened chamber, / Were dark clouds in a moonless sky.” In these lines, the main clause is about “thoughts”. We can spot alliteration in some places: “With tree whispering to tree, / Without wind, quietly.” Both lines repeatedly used a “w” sound. The diction of this poem is also connotative and figurative with several imageries.
Guidance for Usage of Quotes
This poem is about the relationship of a mother and child, and how the love of a mother becomes a source of inspiration and protection from troubles in her child’s life. Therefore, those who passionately love their mother, but cannot express those feelings through their own words, can refer to this poem for appropriate quotes:
“In your arms was still delight,
Quiet as a street at night.”
Also, those people whose mothers have died and feel the absence of their motherly love can use quotes from this poem to remember their mothers, such as:
“O haven without wave or tide!
Silence, in which all songs have died!…”