12022-05-04T08:01:53-07:00Ally Vermillion342ff5f23654a9e2311d339b8ece9e89a38da5e0105932plain2022-05-04T08:02:45-07:00Ally Vermillion342ff5f23654a9e2311d339b8ece9e89a38da5e0An Analysis of James Gates Percival’s “To Seneca Lake”
The poem “To Seneca Lake” by James Gates Percival presents a picturesque description of one of the largest glacier finger lakes in New York: Seneca Lake. The narrator observes all that is around them, basking in the natural beauty of the lake. It should be noted that James Gates Percival had a reputable background and interest in geology, so the reader can infer that he is the narrator of this poem who is present observing this lake. After an in-depth analysis on this poem’s formal characteristics, it is apparent that “To Seneca Lake” centers around someone who is going to a place which exudes serenity and peacefulness to reflect on life and to find inner peace cultivated by the natural world around them.
While moving through the poem from stanza to stanza it is evident that the poem isn’t only speaking about the visual factors in coherence with the lake, but that it is actually a metaphor for the narrator's life. The first stanza reads: “On thy fair bosom, silver lake, / The wild swan spreads his snowy sail, / And round his breast the ripples break / As down he bears before the gale” (1-4). At first glance, the reader is provided with a beautiful image of a swan spreading his wings as he lightly skims the surface of the water facing and pushing through the strong wind that tries to hold him back. Of course, the swan which can symbolize grace, succeeds in his excursion despite the winds that should hold him back. This beginning stanza paints a strong mental image to the reader in which one can infer that the narrator is comparing himself to the swan who overcomes such strong winds that would knock him off track or backwards. This strong metaphor painted by Percival in the very beginning of this poem establishes the tone and deeper meaning of this poem quickly.
The next stanza reads: “On thy fair bosom, waveless stream, / The dipping paddle echoes far, And flashes in the moonlight gleam, And bright reflects the polar star” (5-8). After reading this second stanza, images of someone paddling on a stream of water in the night should flood the reader’s mind. Even though it is nighttime and dark out, this person is still paddling to where he needs to be or wants to be despite obvious issues that would hold the paddler back. While he is doing this, he reflects the moonlight gleam and the polar star, making them bright despite the darkness surrounding them. The narrator takes this interaction they have witnessed and applies it to their life metaphorically. Throughout the darkness, they shall too continue paddling, and when they do they will glow. The next four stanzas follow the style of the previous two stanzas with accounts of eye-opening natural occurrences that can be applied to real life situations that inspire hope, self-reflection, and serenity.
Moving into the more formal elements of this poem, it is important to note that Percival’s poem exclusively possesses masculine rhyme containing lines which end on heavy stress such as “stream” and “gleam” in lines five and seven as well as “far” and “star” in lines six and eight as a few examples. A major speculation that could be credited as reasoning for this could be that when a word ends on an emphasized heavy stress, it evokes feelings of certainty and confidence from the narrator's end which seems to be inspired by their natural surroundings. On top of the masculine rhyme that occurs throughout the entirety of this poem, it is extremely interesting that this poem seems to have a pretty fast paced rhythm when read aloud. This may be caused by the strict rhyme scheme and meter this poem possesses. It is important to note that although it is quite fast paced, it never strays from its strict form; it stays steady and still offers a melodic and calming tone while keeping it adventurous with the pace. Each line and stress fits perfectly causing an up-down, up-down rhythm that is constant, inspiring, and euphonious.
There also seems to be a major emphasis on the “s” sound within this work with that is shown in line two: “The wild swan spreads his snowy sail”; line thirteen: “How sweet, at set of sun, to view”; and line eighteen: “A sheet of silver spreads below”. Although up for interpretation, it seems that “s” sound can be interpreted as sound and flow of the stream. It almost seems as though Percival included onomatopoeia within this poem without evidently doing so. This reoccurring sound of that “s” is a very smooth one that flows right off of the tongue which skillfully adds meaning to this piece. Along with this “s” sound, there are many uses of alliteration in line four with “snowy sail”, in line four with “bears before”, in line twelve with “hies him home”, and in line eighteen with “silver spreads” as a few examples. This alliteration can almost become somewhat synonymous with the repetition of that “s” sound even if the alliteration does not possess the letter “s”. The alliteration can also be credited with how smooth this poem rolls off the tongue.
If there is one stanza in this poem that holds more meaning than the first stanza, it is the last. The last stanza reads: “On thy fair bosom, silver lake, / Oh, I could ever sweep the oar, / When early birds at morning wake, / And evening tells us toil is o’er!” (21-24). This stanza perfectly wraps up the meaning of this poem into morning and night. Through personifying the lake and their natural surroundings in this stanza, it becomes extremely apparent that day scenes symbolize self-reflection and pondering upon daily struggles and that with night, or evening to be exact, that a new and fresh start overcomes not only the natural world, but a more personal one as well.
Throughout the entire poem, Percival uses clear and precise diction to paint a picture in the reader's mind. “To Seneca Lake” is a richly reflective and sentimental piece that finds peace and new beginnings through a meditative view of nature. After an in-depth analysis on this poem’s formal characteristics, it is apparent that “To Seneca Lake" centers around someone who is going to a place which exudes serenity and peacefulness to reflect on life and to find inner peace cultivated by the natural world around them.