(modified from an example found online)
By John Crowe Ransom
Beautifully Janet slept
Till it was deeply morning. She woke then
And thought about her dainty-feathered hen,
To see how it had kept.
One kiss she gave her mother,
Only a small one gave she to her daddy
Who would have kissed each curl of his shining baby;
No kiss at all for her brother.
“Old Chucky, Old Chucky!” she cried,
Running across the world upon the grass
To Chucky’s house, and listening. But alas,
Her Chucky had died.
It was a transmogrifying bee
Came droning down on Chucky’s old bald head
And sat and put the poison. It scarcely bled,
But how exceedingly
And purply did the knot
Swell with the venom and communicate
Its rigour! Now the poor comb stood up straight
But Chucky did not.
So there was Janet
Kneeling on the wet grass, crying her brown hen
(Translated far beyond the daughters of men)
To rise and walk upon it.
And weeping fast as she had breath
Janet implored us, “Wake her from her sleep!”
And would not be instructed in how deep
Was the forgetful kingdom of death.
“Janet Waking” implies a girl waking up.
Janet is a young girl who wakes up and thinks of her hen. A brief interaction with her family, and she runs out to see Chucky. Chucky is dead. He was stung by a bee. Janet does not yet understand death.
C: Choice of Words
- “Till it was deeply morning” is a play on the word morning/mourning and foreshadows Janet’s grief.
- “Running across the world upon the grass” indicates that Janet’s world consists of her yard and demonstrates her to be a young child, still sheltered from the real world.
- “Venom” is a word that has a significant association with evil.
- “Now the poor comb stood up straight / But Chucky did not” downplays the seriousness of death and interjects dark humor into a situation that is devastating for Janet, yet somewhat comical to adults.
- Ransom puts several light-hearted words and phrases throughout the first five stanzas: “dainty-feathered hen,” “No kiss at all for brother,” “Old Chucky,” “purply,” and “But Chucky did not.”
- The rhyme scheme is ABBA, the final lines of each stanza are shorter. This structure reinforces the idea that Janet’s life is simple and that her worldview is narrow.
The tone of the speaker narrating the poem (Janet’s father) is at first light-hearted while dealing with the serious topic of a child’s first experience with death. The comical understatement mentioned above as well as the familial interaction most significantly demonstrate this tone. The tone of the ending is somewhat more forlorn as Janet’s refusal to comprehend death is a stark illustration of her youth and innocence, both of which will also end with the passage of time.
A significant shift occurs at the phrase “But alas” which indicates a change, and indeed, as Chucky has died and now Janet is confronted with the concept of death, her innocence is changed. Also, the humor disappears after stanza 5.
“Janet Waking” now deals with the idea that she is awakening from innocence to the reality of death.
Understanding death marks a departure from innocence.
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