'Delay' by Elizabeth Jennings

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The radiance of the star that leans on me
Was shining years ago. The light that now
Glitters up there my eyes may never see,
And so the time lag teases me with howLove that loves now may not reach me until
Its first desire is spent. The star's impulse
Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful
And love arrived may find us somewhere else.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Delay: A Masterpiece of Despair and Longing

Elizabeth Jennings is a poet who is often overlooked in the canon of English literature, but her work deserves to be celebrated and analyzed in depth. One of her most powerful and haunting poems is "Delay," which explores themes of loss, regret, and the passage of time. In this essay, I will provide a detailed literary criticism and interpretation of "Delay," examining its structure, imagery, and language to uncover its deeper meanings and implications.

Structure and Form

At first glance, "Delay" appears to be a straightforward poem: it is composed of four stanzas, each containing four lines of roughly equal length. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that Jennings has carefully crafted the form of the poem to reflect its themes and emotions. The repetition of the four-line stanzas creates a sense of rhythm and symmetry, but the poem is not strictly metered or rhymed. Instead, Jennings uses subtle variations in line length and enjambment to create a sense of fluidity and movement.

The lack of strict form also allows Jennings to experiment with syntax and punctuation, using pauses and breaks to emphasize certain words and phrases. For example, in the first stanza, she writes:

I put my hand to take yours and it's gone

And life has no more to offer

Nothing is said that can be said again

No more is possible, nothing will happen.

The enjambment between the first and second lines creates a pause that emphasizes the suddenness of the loss, while the lack of a comma after "Nothing is said" creates a sense of finality and resignation. Similarly, in the third stanza, the repetition of the phrase "and we" creates a sense of unity and shared experience, but the final line, "We shall not meet again," stands alone and isolated, emphasizing the sense of loss and separation.

Imagery and Language

Jennings is a master of the metaphor and simile, using vivid and unexpected images to convey complex emotions and ideas. In "Delay," she draws on a variety of images related to time, distance, and memory, creating a rich and layered tapestry of meaning.

One recurring image is that of the sea, which is used to represent both the passage of time and the vast, unknowable nature of existence. In the first stanza, the speaker compares life to "a sea with no shore," while in the second stanza, she describes memory as "a tide that never turns." These images create a sense of timelessness and melancholy, as if the speaker is trapped in an endless cycle of loss and longing.

Another important image is that of the hand, which represents both physical touch and emotional connection. In the first stanza, the speaker describes the moment when she reaches out to take the hand of her loved one, only to find it gone. This image creates a sense of loss and separation, as well as a longing for physical contact and intimacy.

Throughout the poem, Jennings also uses language that is both simple and evocative, creating a sense of immediacy and emotional intensity. For example, in the second stanza, she writes:

The only thing to do is simply wait,

And when we meet again we'll smile and say—

No hard feelings. But behind the talk

Our secret hearts will long for yesterday.

The use of the phrase "no hard feelings" creates a sense of resignation and acceptance, while the final line, "Our secret hearts will long for yesterday," captures the deep sense of regret and longing that underlies the entire poem.


So what does "Delay" mean, and what is Jennings trying to convey through her use of structure, imagery, and language? At its core, the poem is a meditation on the passage of time and the inevitability of loss. The speaker is grappling with the realization that a loved one is gone, and that nothing can bring them back or undo what has been done.

At the same time, the poem is also a celebration of the power of memory and the human capacity for longing. Even as the speaker accepts the finality of the loss, she cannot help but yearn for the past and the connection that has been lost. This creates a sense of tension and ambiguity, as the speaker is caught between acceptance and regret, resignation and longing.

Ultimately, "Delay" is a masterpiece of despair and longing, a haunting and beautiful poem that captures the essence of what it means to be human. Through her use of form, imagery, and language, Elizabeth Jennings has created a work of art that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Delay: An Analysis of Elizabeth Jennings’ Classic Poem

Elizabeth Jennings’ Poetry Delay is a classic poem that explores the theme of procrastination and the consequences of delaying important tasks. The poem is a reflection of the poet’s personal struggles with procrastination and the guilt that comes with it. In this analysis, we will delve deeper into the poem’s structure, language, and themes to understand its significance and relevance even today.


The poem is structured in three stanzas, each consisting of four lines. The first two stanzas describe the poet’s experience of procrastination, while the third stanza offers a resolution. The poem’s structure is simple and straightforward, mirroring the poet’s desire for clarity and simplicity in her life.


The language of the poem is simple and accessible, yet it is also rich in imagery and metaphor. The poet uses everyday language to describe her experience of procrastination, making it relatable to readers. For example, in the first stanza, she says, “I have a little task to do, / And almost dread to set it right.” This line captures the feeling of anxiety and reluctance that many of us experience when faced with a daunting task.

The poet also uses metaphor to convey the emotional weight of procrastination. In the second stanza, she says, “It hangs upon me like a cloud, / A burden which I cannot shirk.” The metaphor of the cloud suggests a sense of heaviness and oppression, while the burden conveys the weight of responsibility that comes with procrastination.


The poem’s central theme is procrastination and its consequences. The poet explores the emotional toll of delaying important tasks, such as guilt and anxiety. She also highlights the practical consequences of procrastination, such as missed opportunities and wasted time.

However, the poem also offers a message of hope and redemption. In the third stanza, the poet resolves to “set to work with all my might, / And try to do the task aright.” This resolution suggests that it is never too late to take action and make things right.


Despite being written over half a century ago, Poetry Delay remains relevant today. Procrastination is a universal experience that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. The poem’s message of hope and redemption is particularly relevant in today’s fast-paced world, where people are often overwhelmed by the demands of work and daily life.


Elizabeth Jennings’ Poetry Delay is a classic poem that explores the theme of procrastination and its consequences. The poem’s simple structure and accessible language make it relatable to readers of all ages and backgrounds. The poem’s message of hope and redemption is particularly relevant today, reminding us that it is never too late to take action and make things right.

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