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Talking in their Sleep by Edith M. Thomas

“Talking in their Sleep” is a metaphorical poem about the effect of winter on nature, written by the 19th-century American poet Edith Matilda Thomas. In this poem, Thomas portrays how nature sleeps throughout the winter by depicting specifically an apple tree, grass, and flowers. An onlooker may feel everything as lifeless, immobile, and speechless. No matter how the dreary, solitary winter landscape appears to them, it knows how to voice her liveliness through the chilling wind. In order to portray the point of view of nature, Thomas personifies the tree, grass, and flower in this piece.

  • Read the full text of “Talking in their Sleep” here along with the analysis section.
Analysis of Talking in their Sleep by Edith M. Thomas


Summary

This poem contains three sections. Each section presents a new speaker who speaks of his very existence in winter. In the first stanza, the apple tree tells the speaker that he is mistakenly thinking that it has died in winter. Externally it may seem that it has died due to the absence of leaves. But its trunk and shoot are still alive. It will prove the fact in the coming summer with its lively buds. In the following stanzas, the grass and the flower similarly describe that they will appear again in the spring. Then the grass will be dancing in the breeze and the flowers will be laughing at those who thought they have died.

Structure & Form

“Talking in their Sleep” consists of three stanzas. Each stanza contains ten internally rhyming lines. It is written in the form of a conversation between three living things of nature, the apple tree, grass, and flower. This piece contains the AA BCCB DEED. It means the first two lines of each section form a rhyming couplet. The following lines can be divided into sets of two quatrains with a closed rhyming pattern (ABBA).

Apart from that, the first two lines of each stanza are in iambic dimeter. The following long lines are composed of either iambic pentameter or iambic tetrameter. While the short ones are composed of iambic dimeter. Let’s have a look at the scansion of the first stanza.

“You think/ I am dead,”

   The ap-/ple tree said,

“Be-cause/ I have/ ne-ver/ a leaf/ to show

   Be-cause/ I stoop,

   And my branch/-es droop,

And the/ dull gray/ mos-ses/ o-ver/ me grow!

But I’m still/ a-live/ in trunk/ and shoot;

   The buds/ of next May

   I fold/ a-way

But I pity/ the wi/-thered grass/ at my root.”


Poetic Devices

In “Talking in their Sleep”, Thomas uses the following poetic devices.

  • Personification: In this piece, Thomas personifies the apple tree, grass, and flower. She invests them with the idea of speaking.
  • Anaphora: It occurs in the third and fourth lines; and fifth and sixth lines. The first two lines begin with the word “Because” and the following ones begin with “And”.
  • Repetition: Thomas uses a similar pattern to introduce the three characters. Readers can find this pattern in the first three lines of each stanza. Besides, in the first two stanzas, the phrase “Because I pity…” is repeated in the last lines.
  • Refrain: The first line of each section is used as a refrain.
  • Metaphor: Thomas uses a metaphor in “snow’s thick blanket”. Here, the thick layer of snow is compared to a blanket. There is another metaphor in “the eyes of a hundred flowers”.
  • Irony: It occurs in the lines “But I pity the withered grass at my root” and “But I pity the flower without branch or root”.


Central Idea & Themes

The central idea of “Talking in their Sleep” is the dualism of appearance and reality, life and death. In this piece, Thomas shows how winter appears to be a time symbolizing loss and decay. While, in reality, nothing dies. In the case of nature, it is in a constant cycle of change. Life renews. Death is just a stage to enter into life. This idea is projected through the remarks of the elements present in the poem.

This piece also taps on the themes of rebirth, the cycle of life and death, and nature. The theme of rebirth is depicted in each section. For example, the flower talks about how it hides its spirit inside the seeds that eventuate the cycle. In this way, rebirth is an integral process of nature. Each thing takes a new shape in order to continue this cycle.

Line-by-Line Analysis

Lines 1-10

“You think I am dead,”

   The apple tree said,

“Because I have never a leaf to show—

   Because I stoop,

   And my branches droop,

And the dull gray mosses over me grow!

But I’m still alive in trunk and shoot;

   The buds of next May

   I fold away—

But I pity the withered grass at my root.”

The title of the poem “Talking in their Sleep” contains a metaphor. Here, “Sleep” is portrayed as a juncture between life and death. It can also be a reference to the state of dormancy. In this stage, nothing ceases to exist. Rather, it rests to express its liveliness in the coming times.

In the first stanza, the apple starts the conversation. Thomas’ speaker is mistaken. She thinks that the tree might have died in the winter. However, that is not the case. According to the personified tree, it may seem a dead thing if the speaker looks at its bare branches stooped with snow. The dull gray moss grew over it.

But, the tree says that it is still alive in its trunk and shoots. When it is going to bloom in May, the speaker will realize that it is right. In the last line, the tree feels sorry for the grass withered at its root. This remark of the tree makes the grass speak up.

Lines 11-20

   “You think I am dead,”

   The quick grass said,

“Because I have parted with stem and blade!

   But under the ground

   I am safe and sound

With the snow’s thick blanket over me laid.

I’m all alive, and ready to shoot,

   Should the spring of the year

   Come dancing here—

But I pity the flower without branch or root.”

In the second stanza, the grass replies to the apple tree. The term “quick grass” refers to its quick response to the tree or its rapid growth in favorable weather. According to the grass, it has parted with its stem and blade. Still, its roots are beneath the ground, sound and safe. Though the snow’s thick blanket is spread over the ground, it cannot touch the roots below. Here, the poet implicitly refers to the roots of the grass by the lines “But under the ground/ I am safe and sound”.

The grass is alive and ready to shoot in the coming spring. When the snow melts away, it can again raise its shoots above the ground, proclaiming its very existence on earth. In the last line, the grass talks about the withered flower as the apple tree did in the previous section.

Lines 21-30

   “You think I am dead,”

   A soft voice said,

“Because not a branch or root I own.

   I never have died,

   But close I hide

In a plumy seed that the wind has sown.

Patient I wait through the long winter hours;

   You will see me again—

   I shall laugh at you then,

Out of the eyes of a hundred flowers.”

In the last stanza of “Talking in their Sleep”, Thomas similarly uses the first two lines in order to introduce the flower’s persona. Here, the flower’s voice is soft, reflecting its tenderness. It says that the grass thinks it is dead as it is not attached to a tree’s branch.

In the next lines, it describes how it has never died. According to the flower, it hides closely in a “plumy seed”. The wind has sowed him deep in the ground. That’s why the grass cannot see it. However, it does not mean that it has died. By the phrase “plumy seed”, Thomas refers to the soft hairs attached to the seed that helps it to glide in the air.

She also personifies the wind in the line “In a plumy seed that the wind has sown”. Here, the wind is compared to a shower. Furthermore, the flower says that it waits patiently through the long winter for the spring. When the spring comes, the seed will germinate into a new plant and several flowers will blossom on its branches. Then, it will laugh at the grass’ foolishness with the eyes of several flowers. Here, the poet metaphorically compares the flowers to human eyes.

Historical Context

The poem “Talking in their Sleep” was written around 1885. It appears in Edith M. Thomas’s first collection of poetry A New Year’s Masque and Other Poems. Thomas was an American poet. She was one of the foremost poets to capture the beauty and excitement of the modern city through her verse. Besides, her poems explore the themes of romanticism, life, and death. She was active in the late 19th century and earlier 20th century, publishing over 300 poems. Some of her best-known works include The Round Year, Lyrics and Sonnets, Heaven and Earth, The Flower from the Ashes, etc.

FAQs

What is the central idea of the poem “Talking in their Sleep”?

The central idea of the poem is about the contrast between the pessimistic aspect of the winter and underlying hope in nature. To present this idea, the poet presents the perspectives of three different creatures and how they will rejuvenate in the spring.

Who are the speakers in the poem “Talking in their Sleep”?

There are three speakers in the poem. In the first stanza, the speaker is the apple tree. The grass and the flower are speakers in the following stanzas.

What type of poem is “Talking in their Sleep”?

This poem is a lyric consisting of three ten-line stanzas. It is written in the form of a conversation between three speakers.

What is the meaning of the title “Talking in their Sleep”?

The title of the poem refers to the state of dormancy. In winter, living creatures become dormant and wait for spring eagerly. Their immobility or apparent death is portrayed as if they are sleeping.

What is the tone of the poem?

The tone of this poem is ironic, inspirational, hopeful, and sympathetic.


Similar Nature Poems

  • “Winter-Time” by Robert Louis Stevenson — This poem describes a child’s excitement about the winter landscape.
  • “The Bird Sanctuary” by Sarojini Naidu — In this poem, Naidu beautifully describes her longing for a natural sanctuary to rest in peace.
  • “Muse” by Meena Alexander — Alexander talks about nature as a source of inspiration in this poem.
  • “A child said, What is the grass?” by Walt Whitman — This piece explores the meaning of the grass.


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