A Thunderstorm

Archibald Lampman

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A moment the wild swallows like a flight

Of withered gust-caught leaves, serenely high,

Toss in the windrack up the muttering sky.

The leaves hang still. Above the weird twilight,

The hurrying centres of the storm unite

And spreading with huge trunk and rolling fringe,

Each wheeled upon its own tremendous hinge,

Tower darkening on. And now from heaven’s height,

With the long roar of elm trees swept and swayed,

And pelted waters, on the vanished plain

Plunges the blast. Behind the wild white flash

That splits abroad the pealing thunder-crash,

Over bleared fields and gardens disarrayed,

Column on column comes the drenching rain.

Source: The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English (Oxford University Press, 1983).

Dive in: 
  1. The word “wild” is used in the first line of this poem, and in some ways, this poem can be read as a poem about wildness. People have different reactions to wildness. What feelings does the description of the storm evoke in you?
  2. There are no human beings in the poem, not even a specific speaker who is seeing and describing the storm. What effect does this neutral, omniscient speaker have on how the storm is described? How might the description been different had the poet chosen a child as the speaker, for example?
  3. This poem is in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet. Its fourteen lines are broken into two parts, one eight lines long (an octave), and one six lines long (a sestet). How would you describe what happens in the first eight lines of the poem versus the actions in those last six lines?
  4. The sentence structure in the poem is quite complex. Verbs are often placed very far from their subjects and objects: for example, in the first sentence of the poem, the subject “swallows” is on the first line, while its verb “toss” doesn’t come until the third line. And, while storms are all about rain, we have to wait until the final word in the poem till we read the word “rain”! What effect does this complex sentence structure have on your reading of the poem?
  5. In your recitation of this poem, where would you speed up and where would you slow down? Can you create some of the sound effects of the storm in your own reading of the poem?
  6. The moments when the natural world takes over our imaginations can be very special. Is there a time in your life when an experience in the natural world felt overwhelming, in a positive or a negative way? Write a poem about that moment using as many sensory details (how things looked, felt, smelled, sounded) as possible.  

 

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Many poets write about the natural world, but not always about “wildness”. The English poet William Wordsworth’s famous poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” described a natural setting much “tamer” than Lampman’s.

 

Archibald Lampman lived in the city, but still was able to write powerfully about events in the natural world. Poets often need to work in community, and Lampman found inspiration and support from the collection of poets known as the Confederation Poets. They included Charles G. D. Roberts and Bliss Carman. If you’d like to learn more about the Confederation Poets, this article might be of interest: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/poetry-in-english

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