On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident

To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.

Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can’t honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Lean incandescent

Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then —
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); skeptical,
Yet politic; ignorant

Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Sylvia Plath's poem Black Rook In Rainy Weather

6 Comments

  1. Judith Miller says:

    I agree with the comments here about reading this poem literally–all poets recognise what she meant by that moment when a thing or even a word suddenly has a special radiance about it.

    In addition to the brilliant theme of Plath’s poem, I celebrate its technicality. It is masterfully done, a free verse poem which establishes its own patterns, moving from one stanza into the next across the space between them on a line which seems to move through the whole poem, creating a forward rush or a sense of something vitally important, leaving a reader almost breathless. In addition, the rhyme sound at the end of each stanza echoes like a tolling bell, a musicality which enriches the piece wonderfully. (I guess it’s pretty clear that this is one of my favourite poems in the language!)

  2. laura says:

    The main feeling I got from this poem was the desire Sylvia Plath had for moments of meaning, moments of insight and and inspiration. Sylvia was a woman who lived on writing, a vast majority of this i think, confessional poerty. She was a woman who lived by writing in poetry about her feelings, her experiences, her thoughts and moods. She expressed herself through her poetry. The main idea that was presented to me from this poem was Sylvia lived, stayed, for the moments of inspiration. She could not survive on just the ordinary, just the nice and simple, or as she saw it mundane. She needed moments of understanding, she needed more than normal, more than what she saw as mediocrity almost. She needed inspiration, or she felt that life was barren. This poem was almost a fight with herself, at the beginning she denies the fact that she is waiting for something, “I do not expect a miracle, or an accident.” She is trying to kid herself, trying to control her impulses and wants. She says “Let spotted leaves fall as they fall, without ceremony or portent,” which is metaphorically her saying “I will just let things be, not try to change or act, or want more.” The large BUT comes through however, when she talks of how she desires some backtalk from the mute sky. She can’t control herself, even when she tries and wants to. She can’t reatin that normalcy, that lack of control and longing. From that point onwards her denail slips away slowly, and she speaks only of the inspiration she is looking for, of “whatever angel may choose to flare. She finally finds that moment she’s been waiting for, of understanding, of almost momentary fulfillment. The trouble is, she knows it’s just momentary. She knows soon enough she will descend to that low mood, and that she will once again have to wait for another moment of inspiration.

  3. J. Camburn says:

    In an age without many superstitions, we look to nature and the world around us for an explanation of our lives; in any event, we see only science’s cause and effect–life is merely the combination of chemicals in the correct amounts, leaves fall because of the natural processes associated with the changing of the seasons, and a black rook arranges its feathers in the rain . . . it’s all natural and easily explained by science. But there are many things that science cannot explain, and many longings that it will never satisfy: it cannot explain our emotions–why a particular sight or smell causes inspiration, nostalgia, or dread; it cannot explain our longing for the supernatural; it cannot explain our need for significance, nor can science give us significance. To science, leaves fall because they fall, lovely but useless, wasted. And even if scientists manage to isolate the chemicals that produce emotions, their explanation removes the wonder of the event without truly explaining it. For we are human, and we will always feel deep down inside that there must be more to life than merely what we can see and what science can tell us. Whether or not science agrees with us, we know that miracles do occur; and we long for them.
    The good news is that there is one person that can explain life in its entirety, infusing it with hope, purpose, and significance. He leaves no room for superstition; he allows science its proper place; yet he satisfies the soul with the miraculous. There is only one person out of the many people in the world–past, present, and future–who can do this: He is not bound by finite limitations. His name is Jesus Christ, the only wise God, the one who created the world and holds it together by the word of his power. Knowing him puts life into perspective and satisfies the soul, freeing us both from superstitious fears and from a sense of insignificance. To him all things are significant. Do you know him?

  4. W. Whether says:

    I see this rather more literally than others might; I’ve actually felt these moments Sylvia was describing. These are the times when life is not lived in shades of gray, when existence is not measured just by the sordid details of human existence. Suddenly, something changes the way you see the most mundane object, and there it is: the possibility of more, that what you believe to be truth is not really all there is.

    I stumbled across this poem wholly by accident. It was the first return on my search for “feathers finding portent.” I feel that Sylvia, like me, spent her life waiting for meaning, hoping for something more than the “brief respite…from total neutrality.” For the “rare, random descent” of an angel, for “some backtalk from the mute sky.” Perhaps what doomed Sylvia was her inability to neither fully believe in miracles, nor to disbelieve.

  5. jordyn says:

    i now u may not all agree with me but i feel that she was crying for help through her poems but nobody was there to help her and that is why she died so young. the reason i believe this is because “rook”= a crow like bird (repersenting death), Angel (angel of death)

  6. Richard Smyth says:

    This amazing poem is one of a handful of poems that I have committed to memory, because it vividly captures the act of writing poetry. It speaks of that moment of inspiration, when a black rook seizes the poet’s senses, “hauls her eyelids up” and “grants a brief respite from fear of total neutrality.” It is the moment that “a celestial burning” takes place and an “angel” descends, “that rare, random descent” when the poet is inspired by a common thing–a “kitchen table or chair,” a “rook ordering its feathers,” or “the most obtuse objects now and then.” It is interesting that Plath uses the language of spirituality–angels, “celestial burning,” “hallowing,” “miracles”–given her apparent atheism (“I do not expect … miracle to set the sight on fire in my eyes, nor seek any more in the desultory weather some design. . . .”). It is clear that poetry is all that she has to keep her from complete despair–a despair that, we know, managed to overtake her when she took her life: “With luck, trekking stubborn through this season of fatigue, I shall patch together a content of sorts.” The poet is confined to waiting for these random moments of inspiration—“those spasmodic tricks of radiance”– that provide for her the energy to keep going. The poem beautifully captures what poetry meant to Plath; the brutal honesty of it strips the act of writing to its bare essentials–that amazing moment all poets wait for, the moment of inspiration, when suddenly something is illuminated, and all there is to do is to write a poem about it, to capture that moment in language, to commemorate that blissful interval when they become a vehicle for transcendence. This is a poem that all poets should memorize, as it speaks directly to them, and for them.

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