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Across the Border by Sophie Jewett

“Across the Border” was published in Sophie Jewett’s posthumous poetry collection, The Poems of Sophie Jewett (1910). This poem implies the invisible border between the spiritual realm and the mundane. As one grows older, this border becomes impenetrable, and one must return to their mortal home. Then slowly, death lays her icy hands in the darkest night. Every person has to go through this cycle. In this piece, Jewett describes how she wandered in the heavenly fairyland all day long in her life’s prime (childhood). When the night slowly approached, she returned to her actual home, surrounded by mundane objects.

  • Read the full text of “Across the Border” here, with the analysis section.
Analysis of Across the Border by Sophie Jewett


Summary

Jewett’s poem “Across the Border” describes a fairyland beyond the earthly border. The speaker is aware of this place where birds are as fair as snow and trees bear golden flowers. In that land, fairy folks dance merrily and light stars instead of candles. Every wind and leaf has the ability to talk with those who understand their language. According to the poet, only innocent and pure children can hear them talking. One day, the speaker followed a white bird into the fairyland. She went after the roving song and wandered all day long there. At night, she returned to her home surrounded by common flowers, brown birds, and candlelight.

Meaning

The title of the poem “Across the Border” contains a metaphor. Jewett compares the “border” with the imaginary line between the heavenly and the mundane. This border can only be crossed as a child. A mature person cannot go across the border. In this poem, Jewett describes the land beyond this border. It is a fairyland where every being has a heavenly aura. One can find birds with snowy wings, trees bearing golden fruits, dancing folks, and talking wind and trees. Once the speaker had a chance to go there. After wandering all day long, she returned to her mundane home.

Structure & Form

Jewett’s lyric “Across the Border” consists of four quatrains or stanzas having four lines. It is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker who talks about the fairyland beyond the earthly border. Jewett uses the alternative ABAB rhyme scheme. It means in each stanza, the first and third, and the second and fourth lines rhyme together. For instance, in the first stanza, “flowers” rhyme with “hours,” and “white” rhyme with “candlelight.” Regarding the meter, the text is written in ballad meter (a combination of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter). Let’s have a look at the metrical pattern of the first stanza.

Where all/ the trees/ bear gol/-den flow(e)rs,

   And all/ the birds/ are white;

Where fai/-ry folk/ in danc/-ing hours

   Burn stars/ for can/-dle-light;


Poetic Devices

Readers can find the use of the following poetic devices in “Across the Border.”

  • Allusion: The epigraph is an allusion to W.B. Yeats’ poem “The White Birds.”
  • Alliteration: The repetition of similar sounds in neighboring words can be found in “fairy folk,” “child-feet chanced,” “swift silver,” “startled shining, silent,” and “Brown birds.”
  • Personification: In this poem, Jewett personifies several inanimate ideas such as trees, wind, song, time, and night. For instance, it occurs in the lines, “the shadowy hours/ Whispered of soft-foot night.”
  • Metaphor: In “Burn stars for candlelight,” the poet compares the stars to candles. The phrase “shadowy hours” is a metaphorical reference to death.
  • Anaphora: All the lines of the third stanza begin with the pronoun “I.” It is a use of anaphora.
  • Synecdoche: “Swift silver wings” contains the use of synecdoche. Here, the poet refers to the silver-winged birds.


Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation

Epigraph

I have read somewhere that the birds of fairyland

are white as snow.—W. B. Yeats

The epigraph of “Across the Border” contains an allusion to W.B. Yeats’ love-lyric “The White Birds.” In the poet’s note on this poem, readers can find the lines: “The birds of fairyland are said to be white as snow.” In this poem, Yeats talks about an island where white birds fly over on the foam of the sea. It can be a reference to the silver-winged seagulls. The poet wishes to be a white bird and roam over the sea with his beloved. By alluding to Yeats’ lines, Jewett hints at the main idea of the poem that concerns a fairyland and its white birds.

Lines 1-4

Where all the trees bear golden flowers,

   And all the birds are white;

Where fairy folk in dancing hours

   Burn stars for candlelight;

The first stanza of the poem describes the fairyland alluded to in the epigraph. Jewett uses the ballad meter and the alternative rhyme scheme (ABAB) for creating a sing-song-like effect throughout the poem. Alongside that, there are some repetitions that create internal rhymings.

In the first two lines, the speaker refers to a place where trees bear golden flowers. The phrase symbolically points to an exquisite kind of flower that grows in heaven’s garden (Eden). The birds of the fairyland have white feathers. These birds act as a symbol of peace and everlasting bliss.

The folks of the fairyland dance during the evening under the starlit sky. Jewett figuratively says that they burn stars for candlelight in their dancing hours. So, here the “stars” are compared to candles. From this description, it can be inferred that the poet is hinting at a heavenly place on earth.

Lines 5-8

Where every wind and leaf can talk,

   But no man understand

Save one whose child-feet chanced to walk

   Green paths of fairyland;

In the fairyland, every wind and leaf has the ability to talk. Here, the poet uses personification in order to invest the inanimate ideas with human attributes. Moreover, the language of nature is incomprehensible to mere humans.

According to the speaker, only children can understand that language. A child’s soul is so pure that it can see beyond the mundane veil. An infant being too close to God can understand the signs of nature. Every human has the chance to walk on the “Green paths” of fairyland in their childhood. As they grow up, they lose the ability to comprehend nature as well as God’s signs. In the last line of this stanza, the phrase “Green paths” is a symbol of childhood, innocence, and life.

Lines 9-12

I followed two swift silver wings;

   I stalked a roving song;

I startled shining, silent things;

   I wandered all day long.

In the third stanza of “Across the Border,” Jewett describes the speaker’s journey into fairyland. Each line of this section begins in a similar pattern, with the pronoun “I.” This poetic technique is used for the sake of emphasis.

The speaker followed two silver-winged birds. In “two swift silver wings,” the poet uses synecdoche. By “wings,” she points at the birds as a whole. In the next line, the speaker describes how she stalked a “roving song.” It means she was after a song that was sung by one of the fairy folks.

After entering the fairyland, she was startled by the beauty of the “shining, silent things.” The scene was so enthralling that she wandered there all day long. There was no intention of coming out of the land.

Lines 13-16

But when it seemed the shadowy hours

   Whispered of soft-foot night,

I crept home to sweet common flowers,

   Brown birds, and candlelight.

In the last stanza of “Across the Border,” the poet talks about how the speaker returned to her home. In the first two lines, the poet describes the evening as “shadowy hours.” The evening whispered the coming of “soft-foot night.” In the phrase “soft-foot night,” the poet uses a personal metaphor. She describes the night as a soft-footed person. It approaches slowly in a man’s life, unnoticed. Here, the “night” is a symbol of death.

When the darkness poured from the sky, the speaker crept back to her home. It was surrounded by common sweet flowers. Instead of white birds, there were brown-feathered birds. She had to light the candles in contrast to the fairy folks who burn stars for candlelight. In this way, Jewett creates a contrast between the fairyland and the normal world.

Historical Context

“Across the Border” was first published in the collection of poems, The Poems of Sophie Jewett, in 1910. It was the final collection of poetry published right a few months after her death. Jewett might have written in the last years of her life when she was troubled with the thoughts of impending death. She could have a glimpse of an eternal place that she had seen as a child. This “fairyland” is nothing other than the manifestation of the divine in the human mind. The lyric form and her precise usage of rhythm and meter dilute the graveness of the dormant theme of the poem, death.

Questions and Answers

What is the poem “Across the Border” about?

Sophie Jewett’s poem “Across the Border” is about a place called fairyland where trees bear golden flowers and birds have feathers white as snow. The speaker has the chance to visit this magnificent place. In this poem, she describes what she finds amazing about that place.

What do you know about the poet of “Across the Border”?

The American lyric poet Sophie Jewett (1861-1909) penned down this beautiful poem. She is also known by her pseudonym, Ellen Burroughs. Her poetic works belong to rich, 19th-century American literature.

Where do all the trees bear golden flowers?

According to the poem “Across the Border,” all the trees of fairyland bear golden flowers.

What is the theme of “Across the Border”?

This poem taps on a number of themes that include innocence, nature, divine beauty, life, and death. The main idea of the poem revolves around a speaker’s feelings after visiting a place called “fairyland.”


Similar Poems

  • “Crossing the Border” by Joy Harjo — This piece is about an Indian woman’s experience of crossing the America-Canada border.
  • “Exile” by Julia Alvarez — This autobiographical poem describes the poet’s experience of fleeing her country in her childhood.
  • “The Bird Sanctuary” by Sarojini Naidu — In this poem, Naidu talks about a serene garden filled with the musical notes of several birds.
  • “The Awakening” by James Weldon Johnson — This poem is about the spiritual awakening of a speaker who finds God in the form of a bee.


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