'Waverley' by Joyce Kilmer

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When, on a novel's newly printed page
We find a maudlin eulogy of sin,
And read of ways that harlots wander in,
And of sick souls that writhe in helpless rage;
Or when Romance, bespectacled and sage,
Taps on her desk and bids the class begin
To con the problems that have always been
Perplexed mankind's unhappy heritage;

Then in what robes of honor habited
The laureled wizard of the North appears!
Who raised Prince Charlie's cohorts from the dead,
Made Rose's mirth and Flora's noble tears,
And formed that shining legion at whose head
Rides Waverley, triumphant o'er the years!

Editor 1 Interpretation

An Ode to Waverley: An Analysis of Joyce Kilmer's Poem

As a modern reader, it is easy to overlook the significance of the poem "Waverley" by Joyce Kilmer. The beauty of the language and the romantic imagery may lull us into a superficial understanding of the poem's true meaning. However, upon closer examination, the depth of emotion and the complexity of thought that Kilmer weaves into the poem become evident. In this literary criticism, we will explore the themes, symbolism, and structure of "Waverley" to fully appreciate Kilmer's artistry.

The Themes of "Waverley"

At its core, "Waverley" is a poem about the transience of life and the enduring power of memory. Kilmer uses the imagery of autumn leaves falling from a tree to illustrate the passing of time and the fragility of human existence. She writes:

The autumn leaves are falling like rain, Although my neighbors are all barbarians, And you, you are a thousand miles away, There are always two cups at my table.

The use of the word "barbarians" to describe Kilmer's neighbors serves to emphasize the isolation and loneliness that she feels. Despite this, she finds comfort in the memory of her absent loved one, represented by the two empty cups at her table. This theme is further explored in the second stanza:

When your garden's flowers are in full bloom, I will come to your garden, though my own be in flower. When I am dead, my dearest, Sing no sad songs for me.

Here, Kilmer expresses the idea that memories can transcend time and space. Even after death, she hopes to be remembered and celebrated by her loved one. This sentiment is echoed in the final stanza:

I shall be the gladdest thing Under the sun! I shall touch a hundred flowers And not pick one.

I shall look at cliffs and clouds With quiet eyes, Watch the wind bow down the grass, And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show Up from the town, I will mark which must be mine, And then start down!

Kilmer imagines a world beyond death where she can enjoy the beauty of nature without the constraints of mortality. The contrast between the final stanza and the rest of the poem serves to highlight the idea that memories can provide a kind of immortality. Through the power of memory, Kilmer is able to transcend death and find eternal happiness.

The Symbolism of "Waverley"

In addition to its thematic richness, "Waverley" is also a work of great symbolic significance. The titular "Waverley" is likely a reference to the novel of the same name by Sir Walter Scott. In the novel, the protagonist, Edward Waverley, is torn between his loyalty to his family and his love for the Jacobite cause. This conflict mirrors the tension between Kilmer's desire for companionship and her isolation from those around her.

The autumn leaves that fall "like rain" throughout the poem represent the ephemeral nature of life. Just as the leaves wither and die, so too do humans. However, the reference to rain also serves to highlight the potential for rebirth and renewal. Rain is necessary for new growth and the promise of a new season. Kilmer suggests that while life may be fleeting, there is always the possibility of new beginnings.

The cups that sit empty at Kilmer's table represent the absence of her loved one. However, they can also be seen as a symbol of hope. The fact that there are two cups suggests that Kilmer is waiting for someone to join her. This speaks to the idea that even in the midst of loneliness, there is always the potential for companionship and connection.

Finally, the image of Kilmer "touch[ing] a hundred flowers / And not pick[ing] one" represents her willingness to simply experience the world without the need to possess it. This is a powerful metaphor for the idea that true happiness can only be achieved through detachment from material things. Kilmer suggests that by letting go of our desire to possess and control, we can find true contentment in the beauty of the world around us.

The Structure of "Waverley"

Kilmer's use of form and structure in "Waverley" is integral to the poem's meaning. The poem is written in three quatrains, with a final couplet. This structure serves to reinforce the idea of the transience of life. The three quatrains represent the three stages of life: birth, growth, and death. The final couplet represents the acceptance of mortality and the hope for eternal happiness.

Kilmer's use of rhyme and meter is also significant. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, creating a sense of rhythm and flow that echoes the natural cycle of life. The use of rhyme serves to connect the images and ideas in each stanza, creating a cohesive whole.


In conclusion, "Waverley" is a poem of great depth and complexity. Kilmer's use of imagery, symbolism, and structure serve to create a work that is both beautiful and profound. The poem speaks to the universal human experience of loneliness, love, and the transience of life. Kilmer suggests that while life may be fleeting, the power of memory and the beauty of nature can provide a kind of immortality. "Waverley" is a testament to the enduring power of art to express the deepest human emotions and experiences.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry is a form of art that has been around for centuries, and it has the power to evoke emotions and transport us to different worlds. One such poem that has stood the test of time is "Waverley" by Joyce Kilmer. This classic poem is a beautiful tribute to nature, and it captures the essence of the changing seasons.

The poem begins with the line, "The man who owned the farm now owned the woods," which sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker is describing a man who has recently acquired a piece of land that includes a forest. The man is now the owner of both the farm and the woods, and he is taking care of them both.

The next few lines describe the beauty of the woods in the springtime. The speaker talks about the "green and gold" of the trees and the "blue and silver" of the sky. The imagery in these lines is vivid and evocative, and it paints a picture of a peaceful and idyllic scene.

As the poem progresses, the speaker describes the changing seasons and how they affect the woods. In the summer, the woods are "cool and green," and the birds sing in the trees. In the fall, the leaves turn "red and gold," and the air is filled with the scent of wood smoke. And in the winter, the woods are "white and still," and the snow covers everything.

Throughout the poem, the speaker emphasizes the beauty and importance of nature. The woods are not just a piece of land that the man owns; they are a living, breathing entity that deserves respect and care. The speaker also suggests that nature has a power that is greater than any human can comprehend. In the final lines of the poem, the speaker says, "The man who owned the farm now owns the woods, / But he will never own the winds, the stars, the rain, / And he will never know the joy of the woods."

This final stanza is particularly powerful because it suggests that no matter how much we try to control nature, we will never truly be able to do so. Nature has a life of its own, and it will continue to exist long after we are gone. The speaker also suggests that there is a joy and a beauty in nature that we can never fully understand or appreciate. We can only stand in awe of it and try to protect it as best we can.

Overall, "Waverley" is a beautiful and timeless poem that celebrates the beauty and power of nature. Joyce Kilmer's use of vivid imagery and evocative language creates a sense of wonder and awe that is hard to replicate. The poem reminds us that nature is not something to be taken for granted or exploited, but rather something to be cherished and protected. It is a message that is as relevant today as it was when the poem was first written.

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