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Analysis of Poem "Wild Peaches" by Elinor Wylie

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Elinor Wylie

Elinor Wylie

Elinor Wylie and Wild Peaches

Wild Peaches is a poem that focuses on a romantic ideal, that of escapism from a world turned upside down. The speaker refers to a companion or lover who wants to emigrate and find happiness amongst the wild peach trees.

Or is the voice that of one person with a split psyche? This isn't made clear but the likelihood is that the speaker is female and the 'other' is a male.

  • What is clear is that this dream hasn't yet come off, it's all in the imagination of the speaker who is somewhat ambivalent about the whole project. On the one hand she relishes the idea of just sailing away into a golden sunset, on the other she is apprehensive.

Why be so cautious? Well, the two aren't true people of the land, they're not farmers, in fact they're just the opposite. His ancestry includes the lotus eaters, mythological dreamers who eat the fruit that intoxicates. She too is a complete romantic.

The reader is left to ponder on the image of these two hippie-like creatures floating off down the river, hitting the shore and discovering their little plot of paradise, quite by chance, in the middle of a wild peach orchard. There they'll wile away the hours spinning cloth and shooting squirrels, walking through meadows and gorging on juicy peaches.

Elinor Wylie certainly led an alternative kind of life. Born into a wealthy family in 1885 in New Jersey, USA, she was educated mostly at home, became something of a socialite with her striking good looks and free spirit. But within was a strong creative spark that produced drawings, novels and poems.

Eventually she married, early, had a child, quickly left her first husband for a lawyer, sailed to England under a scandalous cloud and lived there for five years before returning to the States at the beginning of the first world war. She soon divorced him and married her third man in 1923. A stroke killed her in 1928.

She had always written poetry and Wild Peaches first appeared in the magazine Poetry, 1920, before being included in her 1921 book Nets to Catch The Wind.

Influenced by other poets including classical romantics like Shelley, she produced poems of technical excellence on subjects such as entrapment, ideals, love and inner struggles. In real life she was often described as beautiful but dissatisfied.

Wild Peaches is carried along on primarily iambic pentameter, five beats per line, and has subtle internal rhymes and devices that create texture and pleasing sound. The imagery is vivid, as befits a poet who appreciated art, who longed for the tranquillity within a landscape.

Wild Peaches

1

When the world turns completely upside down
You say we’ll emigrate to the Eastern Shore
Aboard a river-boat from Baltimore;
We’ll live among wild peach trees, miles from town,
You’ll wear a coonskin cap, and I a gown
Homespun, dyed butternut’s dark gold color.
Lost, like your lotus-eating ancestor,
We’ll swim in milk and honey till we drown.

The winter will be short, the summer long,
The autumn amber-hued, sunny and hot,
Tasting of cider and of scuppernong;
All seasons sweet, but autumn best of all.
The squirrels in their silver fur will fall
Like falling leaves, like fruit, before your shot.


2

The autumn frosts will lie upon the grass
Like bloom on grapes of purple-brown and gold.
The misted early mornings will be cold;
The little puddles will be roofed with glass.
The sun, which burns from copper into brass,
Melts these at noon, and makes the boys unfold
Their knitted mufflers; full as they can hold
Fat pockets dribble chestnuts as they pass.

Peaches grow wild, and pigs can live in clover;
A barrel of salted herrings lasts a year;
The spring begins before the winter’s over.
By February you may find the skins
Of garter snakes and water moccasins
Dwindled and harsh, dead-white and cloudy-clear.


3

When April pours the colors of a shell
Upon the hills, when every little creek
Is shot with silver from the Chesapeake
In shoals new-minted by the ocean swell,
When strawberries go begging, and the sleek
Blue plums lie open to the blackbird’s beak,
We shall live well — we shall live very well.

The months between the cherries and the peaches
Are brimming cornucopias which spill
Fruits red and purple, sombre-bloomed and black;
Then, down rich fields and frosty river beaches
We’ll trample bright persimmons, while you kill
Bronze partridge, speckled quail, and canvasback.


4

Down to the Puritan marrow of my bones
There’s something in this richness that I hate.
I love the look, austere, immaculate,
Of landscapes drawn in pearly monotones.
There’s something in my very blood that owns
Bare hills, cold silver on a sky of slate,
A thread of water, churned to milky spate
Streaming through slanted pastures fenced with stones.

I love those skies, thin blue or snowy gray,
Those fields sparse-planted, rendering meagre sheaves;
That spring, briefer than apple-blossom’s breath,
Summer, so much too beautiful to stay,
Swift autumn, like a bonfire of leaves,
And sleepy winter, like the sleep of death.

Analysis of Wild Peaches

Wild Peaches is a series of sonnets based on a presumption that when the going gets tough, crazy, out of control, when the world goes nuts, there will be a chance of escape, there will be a kind of paradise to sail away to.

  • In a sense the speaker, who could be female, is repeating what her male companion/lover/soulmate has promised or suggested. And what's his big idea?Instead of facing reality they will take a river-boat and head for the Eastern Shore, two dreamers looking for the good life.

Top priority will be the wild peach trees, there has to be wild peach. Peaches are not wild however, they don't occur naturally, they have to be grown by humans and the idea of them being wild only comes round because, at some time past, they must have been abandoned.

So already the scene is set and it will have to be remote, miles from town. The speaker therefore must be a little desperate to escape the confines of society, she wants to go back to a time when people made their own clothes and lived off the land.

She wants them both to get lost, like his ancestor, become intoxicated with the fruits of life (lotus eaters are from Greek myth and were discovered by the adventurer Odysseus.).

A land of milk and honey is a biblical concept. When Moses and the Israelites were desperate and in need of help they were promised Canaan by God through a vision at the burning bush.

But note the contrast between the idyllic existence the speaker maps out for them - among the peach trees and bright persimmons - and the harsh shooting of squirrels and killing quail, which will be the man's task!

The bulk of the poem is given over to a description of the seasons and this is where some of the poem's musicality is best displayed. Take the opening lines of sonnet 3:

When April pours the colors of a shell

Upon the hills, when every little creek

Is shot with silver from the Chesapeake

In shoals new-minted by the ocean swell,

  • In the last sonnet the speaker confesses her hatred of this richness - presumably the affluent, materialistic society she has been born into - and it is this inner tension that drives the romantic in her. She wants a simpler existence.

Sonnet 4 is the climax of her dream, all of her energy poured into the love she has for landscape that is austere and, in her eyes, without blemish.

But has this dream been realised? Have the couple actually sailed into the sunset?Probably not. It's all in the speaker's head, a typically romantic ideal which will have to wait for the world to turn upside down again before it comes to fruition.

More Analysis of Wild Peaches

Wild Peaches is unusual in form because of the sonnet series, usually associated with matters of love and romance. Perhaps this is what the poet intended - the theme is certainly romantic, that of escaping reality and sailing away to an idyllic faraway place.

Interestingly, there are two schools of thought when it comes to the sonnet. There are those who believe it is a stadium in which rhyme and meter (metre in British English) best combine to spark the imagination.

Others think the form restrictive, like a prison.

Sonnet Form

There are four parts to the poem, 1 - 4 : three split sonnets each having 14 lines and one sonnet (3) having only 13 lines.

The structure is roughly based on the Petrarchan or Italian sonnet, with an octet and a sextet making up the whole. Sonnet 3 in this poem has only 13 lines, so falls short for an unknown reason.

Rhyme Scheme

Sonnet 1 : abbaabba cdceed

Sonnet 2 : abbaabba cdceed

Sonnet 3 : abbabba cdecde

Sonnet 4 : abbaabba cdecde

All the end rhymes are full except for color/ancestor and hate/immaculate which are near rhymes. Full rhymes are traditional in sonnets and reflect a formal approach to the subject.

Meter (Metre in British English)

Whilst the basis for this poem should be the classic iambic pentameter - five iambs per line, ideally 10 stressed syllables - there are big variations throughout, which adds interest and alters the pace and emphasis.

Let's look at the first five lines, stressed syllables in bold:


When the / world turns / complete / ly up / side down (pyrrhic+dactyl+3 iambs)
You say / we’ll em / igrate / to the East / ern Shore (trochee+dactyl+p+anap+i)
Aboard / a riv / er-boat / from Balt / imore; (2iambs+pyrrhic+iamb+pyrrhic)
We’ll live / among / wild peach / trees, miles / from town,(2iambs+2dactyl+iamb)
You’ll wear / a coon / skin cap, / and I /a gown (trochee+4 iambs)

So it's possible to count the iambic feet - 14 out of 25 in these five lines - to see that overall the steady beat underpins this poem but it is modified by the other feet such as pyrrhic and dactyl, which alter the stress patterns, and astute use of punctuation and enjambment.

Syntax

Syntax, the arrangement of words into clauses and sentences which allow for meaning, is straightforward enough in this poem. There are however one or two clauses and lines here and there that might puzzle:

Stanza 1 - starts off with a subordinate conjunction When...the main clause following in the second line allowing the reader to understand immediately - the two will emigrate and live amongst wild peach trees.

Stanza 3 - also begins with When...but the main clause doesn't appear until line 8, which creates suspense for the reader.

Stanza 2 - lines 5 - 8 - The sun melts the puddles and causes the boys to remove their mufflers...note the semi-colon and enjambment in line 7 ..full as they can hold/Fat pockets dribble chestnuts as they pass.

Sources

Norton Anthology, Norton, 2005

www.poetryfoundation.org

www.loc.gov/poetry

© 2018 Andrew Spacey

Comments

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on May 12, 2018:

Appreciate the visit. Wild peaches is all about escaping into the dream; an ideal romantic theme.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 11, 2018:

This poem definitely sounds like a daydream of sorts. Thanks for filling us regarding the background of Elinor Wylie. Your analysis of her poem was interesting to read.

Andrew Spacey (author) from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on May 11, 2018:

Elinor Wylie, the romantic art loving poet and your good self, in homespun garments... lotus eaters!

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on May 10, 2018:

Sounds like a lady with whom I could be friends.

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