A Widow Bird Sate Mourning: Poem - Summary & Analysis

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A widow bird sate mourning for her love
Upon a wintry bough;
The frozen wind crept on above,
The freezing stream below.
There was no leaf upon the forest bare,
No flower upon the ground,
And little motion in the air
Except the mill-wheel's sound.

Summary & Analysis


      A Widow Bird Sate Mourning is an extract from Charles I, a historical drama begun by Shelley in 1819, resumed in 1822 and left unfinished at his death. Of this incomplete tragedy, portions of only five scenes now remain. These portions show a directness in language and a rare skill in characterization, and also indicate that the play, if completed, might have had the virtues of his other historical play, The Cenci, without its faults. This poem containing the only widely known lines in Charles-I comes from a song by Archy, the court fool, in the fifth scene, and has nothing to do with the action of the play.


      A Widow Bird Sate Mourning describes the intense grief of the widow bird for her love. It sat mourning for her love on a wintry bough. It was very cold and the frozen wind kept creeping above the bough and the stream below was freezing. No leaf was found in the bare trees of the forest and no flower was found on the ground. No sound except that of the wind mill was heard. This 'bare forest', 'single sound' 'lack of motion' all emphasize the grief and loneliness of the widow bird.

Critical Appreciation & Analysis

      Vividness of Description: The poem gives in the course of its eight lines a vivid picture of wintry desolation. The images employed in the poem are brief and precise. The pictures of "the frozen wind", "the freezing stream", the leafless forest, the flowerless earth and the silence in the air have created a picture of the desolation in its true colors. Indeed, Shelley in this poem has shown himself as a predecessor of the future "imagist school" of poets. The presence of the "widow" bird, separated from its mate, has endowed the poem with a human touch and has added to the sense of desolation in the poem.

      Poetic Value: The chief appeal of the poem lies in its economy of words and pathos. The picture of the widow bird "mourning for her love" in the midst of desolation is inspired by Shelley's essential melancholy, a trait of all Romantic poets. A poem with an underlying tone of sadness is always appealing to the human mind; this poem is no exception. This is how Desmond King-Hele comments on the poem: "Though the first line now seems rather sentimental, there is nothing else to cavil at. The poem has the finality of tinkling glass, and it exacts from many a reader the passing tribute of a moment's silence before he resumes the normal tempo of life. Its wintry tone sets, it apart fronts the spring-and-summer Romanticism of its time: the widow bird is more like Hardy's aged thrush than Wordsworth's linnet".


      L. 1. widow bird—a bird that had lost its mate, mourning—feeling unhappy for the loss of its mate, her love—its companion. L. 2. wintry bough—a branch of a tree in winter season. L. 3. frozen—icy-cold. crept—blew. L. 5. forest bare—forest devoid of leaves and flowers in trees due to winter cold. L. 7. motion—movement. L. 8. Except....sound— No other sound'except that of the windmill could be heard. So the calmness intensifies the bird's grief and loneliness.

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