Virginia Lucas Poetry Scrapbook

Formal Description of "The Grave"

James Montgomery's lengthy poem “The Grave” is a narrative poem in which the personified Grave discusses the reasons to live with someone longing to die. Even though the poem discusses mortality and the sadder aspects of life, it has a light feel that gives the reader a sense of hope by the end. “The Grave” uses a quatrain rhyming pattern (abab cdcd etc.), consisting of twenty nine stanzas with four lines each. The poem uses true rhyme in every stanza except for stanzas fifteen, eighteen, and twenty, where slant rhyme is used. For example,in stanza fifteen, slant rhyme is used in lines 1 and 3 with the endings “seen” and “been.” In all three stanzas with slant rhyme, the words look similar, but are said differently. These stanzas focus on finding oneself through love and friendship, so the break in true rhyme helps to draw the reader’s eye to this new idea.

The meter of “The Grave” is consistent throughout. In the first three lines of each stanza, it is iambic tetrameter. In the last line of each stanza, it is iambic dimeter.  This is to emphasize the last line, which usually contains the key part of the message of the stanza. For example in stanza twenty-five, the last line implores the reader “to fall no more.” The meter gives a forward moving feeling to the poem which helps the poem flow and have a shorter feel. Montgomery also helps this by using a number of enjambed lines. Two examples can be found in stanza one, where the sentence does not end until “low in the ground,” and in stanza seventeen, which ends with a question mark at the last line, “a surer blow.” However, the flow of “The Grave” is sometimes broken by caesuras, defined by dashes, that make the reader stop and question what is being said.

“The Grave” is able to contrast light and dark by including a wide variety of different sounds. Each line consists of many soft, aspirated semivowels, such as in stanza sixteen with “winds” and “waves”  and stanza twenty with “bliss” and “faithless.” This gives the reader a chance to catch a breath in this long poem. This combines with liquid semivowels that end many of the lines such as “calm,” “charms,” and “feel,” ending stanzas eighteen, twenty-two, and twenty-four respectively. However, the whole poem overall has a strong, commanding feel, with words like “power,” “pride,” “pulse,” and especially the word “live” throughout. These kinds of powerful, emotional words are usually near the softer sounding words. These words are used to stop the flow of the poem, reminding the reader of the fact that life does end, though one can have a good life.

Overall, “The Grave,” by James Montgomery, uses many contrasting poetic elements in order to create a hopeful poem.


Work Cited:

Oliver, Mary. A Poetry Handbook. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994.