"Stormcock in Elder," first published in 1934, is one of the best-known poems by English writer Ruth Pitter. A traditionalist whose work employs classic meters and verse forms, Pitter published 18 volumes of poetry over a 70-year career, and was the first woman to receive the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. "Stormcock in Elder" is an ode to the mistle thrush, a bird that gets its nickname of "stormcock" based on the fact that it sings even in bad weather. This quality stirs the speaker of the poem's faith. "Stormcock in Elder" is an excellent example of the spiritual and rural focus of Pitter's poetry, relying on vivid imagery of the natural world in order to convey its speaker's transformative religious awakening upon hearing the bird's song.
In my dark ...
... celestial food instead:
For suddenly close ...
... his singing glorified.
Scarcely an arm’s-length ...
... pointed tongue inside;
The large eye, ...
... roof I saw;
The flight-feathers in ...
... a brindled flower.
Soldier of fortune, ...
... at a feast.
One-half the world, ...
... by broken tile.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Ruth Pitter's Life Story — An overview of Ruth Pitter's biography at the "Women in World History" encyclopedia.
The Ruth Pitter Project — A website dedicated to Ruth Pitter by literary scholar and Pitter expert Don W. King.
"Stormcock in Elder" Aloud — Listen to a reading of "Stormcock in Elder" by an English teacher.
The Stormcock — More about the stormcock bird, a.k.a. the mistle thrush.
Ruth Pitter and C.S. Lewis — More on the relationship between Ruth Pitter and writer C.S. Lewis.
1In my dark hermitage, aloof
2From the world’s sight and the world’s sound,
3By the small door where the old roof
4Hangs but five feet above the ground,
5I groped along the shelf for bread
6But found celestial food instead:
7For suddenly close at my ear,
8Loud, loud and wild, with wintry glee,
9The old unfailing chorister
10Burst out in pride of poetry;
11And through the broken roof I spied
12Him by his singing glorified.
13Scarcely an arm’s-length from the eye,
14Myself unseen, I saw him there;
15The throbbing throat that made the cry,
16The breast dewed from the misty air,
17The polished bill that opened wide
18And showed the pointed tongue inside;
19The large eye, ringed with many a ray
20Of minion feathers, finely laid,
21The feet that grasped the elder-spray;
22How strongly used, how subtly made
23The scale, the sinew, and the claw,
24Plain through the broken roof I saw;
25The flight-feathers in tail and wing,
26The shorter coverts, and the white
27Merged into russet, marrying
28The bright breast to the pinions bright,
29Gold sequins, spots of chestnut, shower
30Of silver, like a brindled flower.
31Soldier of fortune, northwest Jack,
32Old hard-times’ braggart, there you blow
33But tell me ere your bagpipes crack
34How you can make so brave a show,
35Full-fed in February, and dressed
36Like a rich merchant at a feast.
37One-half the world, or so they say,
38Knows not how half the world may live;
39So sing your song and go your way,
40And still in February contrive
41As bright as Gabriel to smile
42On elder-spray by broken tile.