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The longer I work with this poem (the previous post on this poem is here) the more evocative and allusive it becomes. It certainly does not fit to into any easily assigned “meaning.” There is no quick code here to “understand” it. Rather it provokes pondering.


Time and the bell have buried the day,

The black cloud carries the sun away.

Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis

Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray

Clutch and cling?


Fingers of yew be curled

Down on us? After the kingfisher’s wing

Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still

At the still point of the turning world.

The third section ended as we “descend lower” from the “place of disaffection.” Down from the world which can only distract with distraction, down into “the world of perpetual solitude.” A place of “abstention from movement” which is contrasted with “the world [which] moves in appetency, on its metalled ways.”  The world is craving its metalled ways (which reminds of Blake’s satanic mills, and the nightmare of factories in The Old Curiosity Shop) The day – presumably of the “real world” have been buried, which is a grim picture. The burial has come from the movement of time, and the bell which marks the movement of time and the end of the world.

The cloud that carries the sun away reminds us of the sun which filled the pool with water, in the speculative, memory world of the first section:

And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight …

Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.

Here the cloud has come has taken all the light out of the world; yet here the light does not merely pass, it is carried away. The cloud is not merely coming before the sun, it is a black cloud which extinguishes the sun.

Will the sunflower turn to us,

He then turns to the sunflower – which famously tracks the movement of the sun as it passes the sky. This makes the question curious: A sunflower does not track people. But in this place, with the sun itself gone, perhaps this flower will provide a substitute.

It is hard to know what to make of this question.

                                    will the clematis

Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray

Clutch and cling?

When we come to the climbing, flowering vine, the question shifts slightly. Will the garden grow with flowers. This again reminds us of the garden where speculation and memory brought us in the first section.  

The third question brings this to a grim resolution:


Fingers of yew be curled

Down on us?

A yew tree is poisonous. Moreover, the trees are planted in churchyards in England.  The sun is gone, the sunflower will ignore us, the garden will not grow for us. Will we face poison and the graveyard? This section began with the verb “buried” as the end of the day.

This monstrous tree seems to be clutching down toward the poet.

Photo Courtesy Vine House Farm

We come to yet another allusion to the first section. At first, it was a thrush which led them to the speculative garden. Here, rather than a thrush is a kingfisher.

                        After the kingfisher’s wing

Has answered light to light, and is silent,

The meaning seems to be that the color of the kingfisher’s wing is a light which answers back to light.  It is interesting that the flowers are questionable in their interaction with “us”. The yew tree is coming for us, but the bird belongs to a different sphere.

That is further emphasized because the kingfisher is “silent” as to us. It answers the light, but not us. The thrush called the poet along. The kingfisher is otherwise engaged. 

It is possible that the kingfisher also is a more violent bird than a thrush.

As noted in the beginning, this section enters after the “descent” of section III. With the buried day and the bird who no longer speaks to us, it would be easy for the poem to descend wholly into despair. But this section ends with this:

                                    the light is still

At the still point of the turning world.

The day may be buried, but the light is not extinguished. There is a place for hope at the still point of the turning world.

The tone of this section reminds of the jarring mix of registers at the beginning of The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock:

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

The section begins with the very song-like lines:

Time and the bell have buried the day,

The black cloud carries the sun away.

The rhythm and the sound carries the lines along. But the content is deadly. Looking back at these words, especially after the encounter with the yew tree, “Time and bell” are more than just the marker for the end of a workday. This is a funeral bell. This is a burial.

The understanding of the lines thus change as you consider more of the context.  A burial of sorts has come to us. Is there any hope here? If we cannot have the sun can we have a sunflower? No. At least a flowering vine? No. Instead the yew tree has come to poison and bury us. What about that thrush that led us to the garden – this is sort of like a garden. Here there is no thrush, there is a kingfisher who is silent. What then? Well, there is still light at the still point.  Time perhaps will kill, but there is a still point still.

My life? The black cloud will drag away the sun. Time and the bell will put out the light.  I may look at the flowers and birds, but it is the yew tree which will come for me.

And even now, as I think about it, I see another allusion lying behind the poem: flowers and birds:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25–33, ESV)

This allusion to things which will perish so quickly: flowers and birds. He is looking to them for some sort of protection against the loss. It is these things which Jesus holds up as examples of that which quickly perishes.