Rukhaya M.K

A Literary Companion

Poetry Analysis: Stephen Spender’s “Pylons”


The advent of pseudo-modernism onto a hitherto serene arena is the theme of Stephen Spender’s “Pylons”. The poem was so famous that it heralded a new school of poets, namely ‘the Pylon Poets’ to label the work of Spender and his associates.

The literal meaning of ‘pylons’ point to tall metallic posts that hold electric wires.Though they appear to be the harbinger of electricity, he feels that they are an intrusion into the peaceful countryside. The emblem of the pylons possess powerful symbolic significance. Their being tall, they seem to have a ‘towering’ influence on our lives. Secondly, though they are static, their energy is kinetic and therefore shown to be all-pervasive. Their being metallic, it projects a picture of being frozen to human emotions. Besides, pylons are universal, just as we cannot live without electricity and the most eloquent emblem of modern technology. They seem to run into everywhere and everything, as though runs the quick perspective of the future. Wordsworth defined poetry as the impassioned expression in the countenance of all science.

The poet begins by glorifying the hills and cottages that haunt our imagination, as they possess an elusive quality. The secret about these, says the poet was their ‘stone’: the only natural thing about them that nothing else could endow with. The crumbling roads rather than appear decrepit come across as enchanting as they uncover villages without prior notice, like rabbits from a magician’s hat. He asserts, that they have now built the pylons that trail black wires. The poet’s description comes across as black lines scribbled all over the painting of a beautiful countryside. The colour black forebodes ‘gloom’. Spender also likens them to giant nude girls that have no secret to hide. They are as vulgar as naked girls that deliberately reveal. Further, these unclothed girls are not aesthetic as they are giant-like. They are devoid of modesty, principles and values where might is right. Robert Frost said: “Science can measure height, but not worth.”

The valley with its gilt and evening look

And the green chestnut

Of customary root,

Are mocked dry like the parched bed of a brook.

The evening look of the valley signifies it tranquility and the green chestnut prosperity. The phrase “of customary root” points to the concept of tradition and deep roots. They are mocked dry with industrialization penetrating their very base and eating out the very core of nature leaving the picturesque countryside lifeless. As they appear as ‘whips of anger’ above, they are inevitable as:

‘There runs the quick perspective of the future.

The poet thus holds an ambivalent attitude to the initiation of science and technology. It is also prophetic of a progressive prospect that we all do anticipate, and therefore the countryside dwarfs in comparison to such considerations. What Spender conclusively arrives at is that evolution of science and technology is unavoidable for growth and advancement;however it has to be healthy and ethical. He appears “Shelleyan” in his prophetic stance in anticipating the future, and in his pervading revolutionary zeal and particularly in this last stanza for his lyricism:

Dreaming of cities

Where often clouds shall lean their swan-white neck.

Compare it with the following lines from Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind”:

Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ’s bay,

And saw in sleep old palaces and towers

Quivering within the wave’s intenser day,

The poet ends the poem on optimistic note reconciling two hitherto divorce entities :Nature and Science. Amid “shattering material events, such as wars and revolutions,” he wrote, “the problem is to understand the nature of these events and transform them into a lucid language of the imagination, where they exist in their own right, coherent visions independent of reality, but nevertheless reflecting the truth of reality.”

©Rukhaya MK 2010

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this work. It is very useful to me.

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