A Brief Analysis of Norman Nicholson’s ‘Rising Five’

Information on the Poet: Norman Nicholson was an English poet who lived between 1914 and 1987. His poems are noted for depicting issues that are immediate to the poet’s milieu. His poetic style is lucid; it is characteristically simple and straightforward in terms of diction and general language of use. Nicholson had a sickly childhood which meant that he was precariously close to death early in life. This experience made Nicholson more appreciative of life and the need to be grateful and contented with what one has and has achieved in the present instead of worrying about the future.

Subject Matter of Nicholson’s ‘Rising Five’: The subject matter of the poem is the need for the individual to be happy and contented in the present moment; not worrying or being anxious about the future. The poem emphasises the imperative of appreciating the beautiful moments of life, especially the memories created in the present, instead of rushing to experience the future that is still ahead and unknown. In this, the poem’s didactic undertone is apparent. The poet uses a dramatic method to drive home this message about valuing the present moments instead of agonising about the future.

Form, Structure and Structural Analysis: ‘Rising Five’ is organised in four stanzas of varying lengths. The poem is written in free verse and makes use enjambment or run-on-lines. Each stanza terminates with a parallel refrain such as ‘Not four/But rising five’, Not May/But rising June’, ‘Not now/But rising soon’ and ‘Not living/But rising dead’.  The poem has two characters, a boy and an adult character. Throughout the poem, it is the adult character who speaks though he quotes the boy in the opening lines of the poem. The use of dialogue gives the poem its dramatic quality.

Stanza 1: The poem begins with the persona repeating the words of the boy: ‘I’m rising five. . ./Not four’. This illustrates the boy’s desire to add another year to his life. In other words, the boy, instead of appreciating his present age, youth and innocence, wants to hurry his growth to adulthood. The boy doesn’t seem to realise that childhood is a time to be happy, something to appreciate and value with contentment. The poet combines auditory and visual imagery in this stanza to depict his idea of the boy’s youth, innocence and ignorance. For instance, the expression ‘little coils of hair’ constitutes visual imagery that describes the boy’s youthful age. The word ‘un-clicked’ has an onomatopoeic texture. It also constitutes kinesthetic imagery since it implies movement. The phrase ‘toffee-buckled cheeks’ is a visual imagery which describes the boy’s childhood or childishness. The persona also reports on the boy’s age by indirectly using the expression ‘fifty-six months’ to imply that the boy is four years old, and not five as he claims or wishes.

Stanza 2: In the second stanza, the persona draws an analogy between the impatience noted in the boy and the impatience noted in nature. The impatience in nature is observed in the eagerness of the plants in the fields to be ripe for harvest and in the impatience of the spring (season of the year) to become summer. In this stanza, the poet deploys personification, alliteration and assonance to buttress his points. The expression ‘bubbled and doubled’ constitutes assonance with the repetition of the vowel number 10 /˄/. The words also constitute consonance with the repetition of voiced alveolar plosive /d/. The use of the words ‘frills’ and ‘swilled’ personify the plants and their changing physiques in getting ready for change or transformation. The expression ‘forming of the fruits’ is alliterative. The season described is spring during which plants blossom. But the persona sees a situation where these plants are already anticipating the stage of fruition. This illustrates the impatience in nature: ‘Not May/But rising June’.

Stanza 3: This is the shortest stanza in the poem. The persona illustrates time itself as impatient and rushing. The description captures the impatience noted by the elements in the firmaments as ‘the dust dissects the tangential light’. This line is significant because apart from constituting personification, which is one of the major poetic devices in the poem, it also describes the action in nature to effect a quick change from day to night and from now (the present) to soon (the future).

Stanza 4: This is the lengthiest stanza in the poem. It sums up the persona’s thesis about the characteristic impatience noted in human and in nature. The first line exemplifies personification: ‘The new buds push the old leaves from the bough’, while the second line is simile: ‘We drop our youth behind us like a boy’. The act of the boy throwing away his ‘toffee-wrappers’ connotes the shedding or abandoning of his childhood for adulthood.

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