The opening lines establish the poem's setting and the speaker's circumstances, which are closely linked. The setting is revealed as a "hermitage," a remote dwelling usually belonging to a hermit or religious figure. The speaker describes the hermitage as "dark" and "aloof," or distant, from the world's sights and sounds, conveying a strong sense of isolation. The fact that the speaker identifies themselves with this place—note that it is "my" hermitage—suggests that the speaker, too, is lonely and isolated.
The hardship of life at the hermitage is further emphasized by lines 4 through 6 ("Hangs but five feet ... celestial food instead"), which continue to describe it as a small, worn-out place. The "old roof" hangs so low to the ground it is barely as tall as a person. When the speaker goes to "grope," or search, on the shelf for bread, there's none there. Not only is the hermitage cut off from the outside world, it is also in disrepair and without food, indicating that the speaker may be impoverished as well as isolated.
Given the religious implications of the word "hermitage," much of its description can also be read metaphorically. In other words, the isolation and impoverishment of the hermitage likely represents the speaker's spiritual or religious state as well.
- This is made clear in the stanza's final line, where the speaker finds "celestial food instead" of bread. Celestial means "heavenly," so the implication here is that the speaker has not found actual food, like bread, but rather spiritual sustenance.
- What's more, the rest of the poem indicates that the phrase "celestial food" is itself a metaphor for the stormcock, the central figure of the poem, whom the speaker has just spotted.
- Thus this line suggests that the speaker has been suffering from spiritual hunger at the hermitage—and that the sighting of the stormcock fills that hunger by providing spiritual nourishment.
This stanza also establishes the poem's structure, meter, and rhyme scheme. The is a sestet, or six-line stanza, just like the rest of the poem's stanzas. Each line contains eight syllables, and they are written in loose iambic tetrameter, the meter that dominates the poem. This means that there are four iambs—poetic units with a da-DUM, or unstressed-stressed syllable pattern—per line. Lines 5 and 6 illustrate this meter clearly (note that "celestial" should be read as having two syllables rather than three):
I groped along the shelf for bread
But found celestial food instead:
There are many variations to this meter, however. Note the spondees (stressed-stressed) of "world's sight," "world's sound," "small door," and "old roof," for instance. The extra stresses here add emphasis to these descriptive phrases.
Lastly, the rhyme scheme follows an ABABCC pattern, in which the first and third, second and fourth, and fifth and sixth lines each rhyme with each other in pairs, again establishing a pattern that will be used throughout the rest of the poem.