In Memory of Jane Fraser
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Poems are small windows that look into a person’s soul and often convey deep emotions using figurative language. A poet can hide their darkest thoughts in a poem and leave it up to the reader to find their true message. Sometimes, poems do not hold a message at all and are meant to be taken as literally as they sound when read aloud. While “In Memory of Jane Fraser,” written by Geoffrey Hill, is filled with figurative language that creates a clear picture for the reader, there is no secret in those words. It is simply a poem that was written in remembrance of a woman and there is nothing more to find.
The title of the poem alludes to the fact that it is about someone who has passed away and the major theme throughout the poem is death. “In Memory of Jane Fraser” is set during the season of winter and winter is most often corresponded with death. Most living things die during the long, cruel months of winter and await their rebirth in the spring. Unfortunately, this fate is not the same for human beings.
There is an abundant amount of figurative language used throughout this poem, to the point where it almost spills off the page. The first line, “when snow like sheep lay in the fold,” uses a simile to compare snow to the soft, warm wool of a sheep. It also creates the image of fresh, powdery snow lying on the ground. The next three lines of the first stanza stick to using personification to give the illusion of winds begging at the doors, hills being blue with cold, and a cold shroud laying on a moor. Geoffrey Hill gives the weather conditions a personality of their own—one that is bitter about the winter that lies ahead. A picture of a rough winter is created, one with harsh winds that rattle the houses and freeze the hills.
The second stanza of the poem compares the woman to a bird using a simile in the line, “we watched her brooding over death like a strong bird above its prey.” This line is important because it shows that this woman, who is so close to death, was not afraid of it. She was ready to embrace it, to sink her teeth into and accept it for what it was. The last line of the second stanza also uses personification to give a kettle the human quality of breathing. One could imagine in their mind a woman who is preparing herself for death with eyes set forward and a head held high, gaze steady, as if proposing an invitation of sorts.
The third stanza includes some figurative language but more so it creates a powerful image. The first line, “damp curtains glued against the pane sealed time away,” is not so much about the curtains or the window but the fact that, in that moment, everything going on outside was not important and thus it was sealed away, hidden and kept out of mind. The woman died and as her body became still, the acts of nature that were taking place outside also became still, as if to pay its own respects to her. The fourth and final stanza of this poem brings the dawning of new life that comes with spring, something that this woman was not able to see before her death. The passing of winter into spring brings the rebirth of the world outside that lay dormant under snow over the course of those long winter months. Although the woman was no longer around, her spirit was born again when the earth stirred and awoke from its long sleep. It could be seen in the melting ice that covered the rivers and the sun’s reflection in those waters.
It could be seen in the trees, shaking off the snow and dead pine cones. There doesn’t seem to be any sound devices present and the arrangement of the words and lines do not seem to be very much important, but a rhyme scheme is present. Each stanza follows its own pattern: ABAB, CDCD, etc. This pattern gives the poem an easy going tone, one that relaxes the reader about the topic of death. As if to say, although we will all inevitably die, our rebirth back into nature follows soon after. This poem is another example of why the thought of death does not need to be a frightening one. It is simply another stage of life that we all must pass through and although this passing might be unpleasant, the outcome on the other side is not something to be afraid of. Humans can learn to set aside their fears and face death head on with the example that is set in this poem. I, myself, have never feared death but anticipated the many questions it will answer.