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English Literature

Elizabeth Jennings' Delay' (1956) considers the complexity of love, particularly in the context of chance. The poem was first published as part of the 1956 New Lines Anthology edited by Robert Conquest and has featured in many of Jennings' anthologies published since.

Jennings is known for her poetry, which deals with emotionally intense or impactful moments. Although 'Delay' does not tackle a particularly uncomfortable subject, as many of Jennings' poems do, it does express how love can be missed due to miscommunication or misinterpretation between parties.

Written In

1956

Written By

Elizabeth Jennings

Form

Regular form consisting of two quatrains

Meter

Iambic pentameter

Rhyme Scheme

ABAB

Poetic Devices

Metaphor

Personification

Enjambment

Caesura

Frequently noted imagery

Starlight

Uncertainty / Chance

Tone

Dreamy

Key Themes

The passage of time

Romantic love

Meaning

Love is down to coincidences, outside of the control of both parties.

Context of ‘Delay’ by Elizabeth Jennings

Let's explore the biographical and literary context of the poem.

Biographical context

Elizabeth Jennings was an English poet who lived from 1926 to 2001. According to Michael Schmidt, she was 'the most unconditionally loved poet of her generation'.1

Between 1944 and 1947, Jennings studied English at St Anne’s College, Oxford University. Prior to this, she attended Rye St Antony School in Headington and Oxford High School. After graduating, Jennings worked at Oxford City Library, where she developed an interest in writing poetry.

Literary context

Elizabeth Jennings' was part of a group of writers called 'The Movement'. This group of poets wasn't known for breaking the mould; instead, they became renowned for their lyric poetry and mastery of meter and rhyme.

The Movement: A term referring to the group of writers who first came together in Robert Conquest's New Lines Anthology, which included the works of Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, John Wain, and others. The term was coined in 1954 by J. D. Scott, literary editor of The Spectator.

'Delay' opened Jennings' section in the New Lines Anthology and subsequently featured in many more of her collections such as New Collected Poems (1986) and Selected Poems (1979). The poem was also published as part of Poems On The Underground.

Poems On The Underground: A project started in 1986 intended to bring poetry to a wider public audience by displaying poetry on various transport via London networks three times a year.

Over the course of her lifetime, Jennings published and was included in around thirty different poetry collections.

Elizabeth Jennings’ second poetry collection, A Way of Looking, was published in 1955 and won the Somerset Maugham award. The prize money from this award allowed Jennings to spend almost three months in Rome, influencing her future poetry.

Somerset Maugham award: A British literary prize given by the Society of Authors, set up by William Somerset Maugham in 1947.

‘Delay’ by Elizabeth Jennings poem

The radiance of the star that leans on me

Was shining years ago. The light that now

Glitters up there my eyes may never see,

And so the time lag teases me with how

Love that loves now may not reach me until

Its first desire is spent. The star's impulse

Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful

And love arrived may find us somewhere else.

Summary and analysis of ‘Delay’ by Elizabeth Jennings

'Delay' explores how romantic love can be impacted by coincidence and chance. The poem uses an extended metaphor of starlight as a representation of love.

Title

The poem's title has an ambiguity to it, consisting of a single word; 'Delay'. As a verb, 'Delay' means the action of postponing something or to causing something to be late. As a noun, 'Delay' means an instance of something being postponed or the interlude of time between when an event was meant to happen and when it actually happens.

In any case, the word delay has connotations of lateness and lost time, introducing time as a theme from the poem's beginning.

How do you think the title influences how we interpret the rest of the poem?

Stanza one

The first stanza of the poem introduces the 'star' describing its 'radiance' as its light travels to earth. Imagery associated with light dominates this stanza, contributing to the later metaphor of the 'star' representing love. However, there is an element of uncertainty too in the stanza, as the narrator admits that they 'may never see' the light from the star reach earth.

Alongside this, caesura and enjambment is utilised in the stanza to create a free-flowing rhythm amongst the regular quatrains and iambic pentameter.

Caesura: A break in a line created by punctuation such as full stops or exclamation marks.

Enjambment: when a sentence continues from one line of a poem onto the next line, uninterrupted by punctuation.

What do you think the impact of caesura and enjambment is in this verse? Do these techniques emphasise certain words or phrases?

Stanza one

The poem's second stanza directly introduces the theme of love in the context of a delay or misinterpretation:

Love that loves now may not reach me untilIts first desire is spent.

Here the poet acknowledges how one may not realise that someone loves them until the 'first desire is spent', just as we may not see the light from a star on earth until the star itself has collapsed.

This second stanza effectively combines love and starlight into an extended metaphor for unrequited or unknown love.

Structure of ‘Delay’ by Elizabeth Jennings

The poem consists of two quatrains, with an ABAB rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter. The use of iambic pentameter is reflective of the poem's theme of love, due to its common use in sonnet forms. Alongside this, the ABAB rhyme scheme provides a continuous, regular rhythm, producing a considered and wistful tone throughout. However, this regular form is contrasted by the poet's use of enjambment, which allows the lines to flow between each other.

Quatrain: a verse or stanza of poetry which consists of four lines.

Iambic pentameter: A type of metric line which contains five iambs, an iamb being a metrical foot that consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

Sonnet form: A rhyming poem that consists of fourteen lines and contains iambic pentameter.

Iambic pentameter

Iambic pentameter is present throughout the poem, providing a regular rhythm, for instance:

Love that loves now may not reach me until

In this line there is a total of ten syllables and five iambs, with the first syllable, 'love', being unstressed and the second, 'that', being stressed.

The rhythm of iambic pentameter is known to parallel the rhythm of a heartbeat, reflective of the poem's romantic nature.

Poetic devices in ‘Delay’ by Elizabeth Jennings

Enjambment

Enjambment is used throughout the poem. The enjambment fragments the rhythm, creating a literal delay in the poem, for instance:

And so the time lag teases me with how

Love that loves now may not reach me until"

The sentence does not end on the fourth line of the first stanza – it continues onto the first line of the first stanza. Here the enjambment creates a feeling of disconnect: the delay of the title becomes a literal delay in the sentence. This delay parallels the delay in the arrival of the light from the star to earth or the narrator's love for their lover.

Caesura

Caesura is used twice within the poem, on the second line of both the first and second stanza:

Was shining years ago. The light that now

and

Its first desire is spent. The star's impulse

The caesura breaks up the line, forcing the reader to pause and consider exactly what is being said. This use of caesura adds to the message of delay in the poem. The communication is interrupted by punctuation, creating a delay in the poem itself.

In the first instance of caesura, the period between 'years ago' and 'now' emphasises the time difference, by forcing the reader to pause between these two references to time. The second caesura heightens the finality of 'spent', accentuating that the love

Metaphor

Throughout the poem, there is an extended metaphor of starlight as a symbol of love. This metaphor is underpinned by the opening lines of each stanza. The first stanza introduces 'the radiance of the star' while the second stanza compares 'love' to starlight and the time it takes for the light of a star to reach earth.

This extended metaphor contributes to the poem's dreamy and wistful tone. We associate stars with the night sky and the wonders of space. They are bright and glittering objects which we admire from afar, just as one may admire their love from afar.

Alternatively, the narrator may be remembering their love in a nostalgic sense, looking back at the glittering opportunities it once presented. However, like the star, this love is now too far away to be truly seen or realised.

Jennings doesn't use any similes in this poem - do you think that there is a reason for this?

Delay, starlight traveling to earth, StudySmarter'the radiance of the star'. pixabay.com

Personification

Both love and stars are personified in the poem. For instance:

The radiance of the star that leans on me

We know that the star does not literally 'lean' as it is an inanimate object. By portraying its 'radiance' as something with human attributes, Jennings emphasises its brightness and vibrancy. By bringing the concrete noun of the 'star' and abstract noun of 'love' to life, Jennings gives them their own autonomy, connecting their journeys.

Imagery and tone in 'Delay' by Elizabeth Jennings

Now we will take a look at the different ways in which imagery and tone are used in 'Delay'.

Imagery

Imagery in the poem is depicted through starlight and uncertainty/chance.

Starlight

Imagery associated with starlight is present throughout the poem, most notably portrayed through a semantic field of light: 'radiance', 'shining', 'light', 'glitters'. This semantic field builds on the image of the star, allowing its radiance to travel across the entire poem, just as the light of the star travels to earth.

Semantic field: A collection of lexically related words.

Uncertainty / Chance

Imagery associated with delayed time and uncertainty or chance is also prevalent in the poem. For instance, the modal verb 'may' is used twice in the poem. The use of this verb indicates that while there is a chance of love finding the narrator, there is also a chance that the starlight may never be seen by the narrator: both of these things are uncertain. This builds on the associations of the poem's title of withheld/delayed time.

Modal verb: a verb that indicates ability, possibility, likelihood, permission, or obligation. For instance, 'must' or 'should'.

Tone

The poem has a dreamy tone produced through the extended metaphor of starlight as a representation of love. This extended metaphor is evident through the semantic field of light present in the poem's first stanza; 'radiance', 'shining', 'light', and 'glitters', combined with references to romance and love ('love', 'desire', 'beautiful') in the second stanza.

The connotations that stars hold of night time, when most people go to sleep, causes the metaphor to be associated with dreams and far-off thoughts, contributing to the poem's dreamy tone. Additionally, the semantic field used in this metaphor produces elegant and bright imagery, contributing to the poem's dreamy tone, as we often associate dreams with grand ideas and hopes.

This dreamy tone is also produced through the use of an ABAB rhyme scheme, for instance the first stanza's lines end with; 'me', 'now', 'see' and 'how'. This rhyme scheme creates a lyrical rhythm, similar to that of a song. The associations of the poem's rhythm with a song creates a dreamy tone, as though the narrator is humming or singing along to a tune in a tranquil and dreamlike state.

Themes in 'Delay' by Elizabeth Jennings

Now we will analyse the two main themes in the poem.

The passage of time

The passage of time is apparent as a theme from the poem's title 'Delay'. 'Delay' holds connotations of lateness, relating to a pause or postponement. Throughout the poem, this theme becomes increasingly evident through the extended metaphor of starlight. Seeing the light of a star from Earth relies on the coincidence of timing, as demonstrated between the first and second stanza of the poem:

And so the time lag teases me with how

Love that loves now may not reach me until

enjambment

Romantic love

Romantic love is particularly prevalent as a theme in the second stanza as demonstrated by Jennings' use of the words 'love', 'desire', and 'beautiful'. As discussed, the theme of time intersects with the theme of romantic love to create a sense of uncertainty. For example, in the final stanza Jennings writes:

The star's impulse

Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful

And love arrived may find us somewhere else.

The imperative phrase 'must wait' implies that the star has to wait for its light to travel to earth, just as a lover must wait for their love to be received by another. The use of enjambment adds to this sense of uncertainty; while the poem discusses love, it does not describe it as a definite outcome. Once love arrives it 'may find us somewhere else'. Just as the sentences of the poem flow freely, love also acts in a free and uncertain way.

Imperative phrase: a phrase that gives an authoritative command.

The theme of love is also apparent in the poem's use of iambic pentameter which, as mentioned, resembles a heartbeat.

Delay - Key takeaways

  • Elizabeth Jennings' poem 'Delay' was first published as part of the 1956 New Lines Anthology.
  • The poem relies on the extended metaphor of starlight as a symbol to explore the complexity of love, particularly in the context of chance.
  • The poem consists of two quatrains, with an ABAB rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter.
  • The poem has a dreamy tone, created by a semantic field of light and the poem's ABAB rhyme scheme.
  • Imagery associated with starlight and uncertainty is present in the poem, building on the themes of the passage of time and romantic love.

1 Elizabeth Jennings. New Collected Poems. 2002.

Delay

In the poem 'Delay' Elizabeth Jennings portrays the relationship through the extended metaphor of starlight as a symbol of love.  This metaphor of starlight portrays the relationship as something which can be impacted by chance and time.  

Elizabeth Jennings is known for her poetry which deals with emotionally intense or impactful moments. 

'Delay' is a poem about how much of love is down to coincidences, outside of the control of both parties. 

Elizabeth Jennings was an English poet who lived from 1926 to 2001. She was part of a group of writers called 'The Movement', a group of poets renowned for their lyric poetry and mastery of meter and rhyme.  

'Delay' consists of two quatrains. It is written in iambic pentameter with an ABAB rhyme scheme.

Final Delay Quiz

Question

Which anthology was 'Delay' by Elizabeth Jennings first published in?

Show answer

Answer

New Lines Anthology 

Show question

Question

True or false? Elizabeth Jennings was part of 'The Movement'

Show answer

Answer

True! 

Elizabeth Jennings' was part of a group of writers called 'The Movement'. This group of poets weren't known for breaking the mold, instead they became renowned for their lyric poetry and mastery of meter and rhyme. 

Show question

Question

What is Poems on the Underground?

Show answer

Answer

Poems On The Underground is a project started in 1986 intended to bring poetry to a wider public audience by displaying poetry on various transport for London. networks three times a year.

Show question

Question

What is the form of 'Delay'?

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Answer

Two quatrains

Show question

Question

What rhyme scheme is used in 'Delay'?

Show answer

Answer

There is no rhyme scheme

Show question

Question

What meter is 'Delay' written in?

Show answer

Answer

Iambic Pentameter 

Show question

Question

What is iambic pentameter?

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Answer

A type of metric line which contains five iambs, an iamb being a metrical foot which consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.  

Show question

Question

What technique is used in the line:

Was shining years ago. The light that now

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Answer

Caesura 

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Question

Which of these are not imagery featured in 'Delay'? Select two.

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Answer

Death

Show question

Question

What technique is used here:

Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful 

And love arrived may find us somewhere else.

Show answer

Answer

Enjambment

Show question

Question

What extended metaphor is present in 'Delay'?

Show answer

Answer

An onion as a symbol for love

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Question

True or false? Elizabeth Jennings uses personification in her poem 'Delay'?

Show answer

Answer

True! Jennings personifies both love and starlight. For instance;

"The radiance of the star that leans on me"

Show question

Question

What semantic field is used in delay?

Show answer

Answer

A semantic field of light; "radiance", "shining", "light". 

Show question

Question

What is the tone of the poem 'Delay'?

Show answer

Answer

Dreamy 

Show question

Question

True of false? The theme of time intersects with the theme of love in 'Delay'?

Show answer

Answer

True! The theme of time intersects with the theme of romantic love to create a sense of uncertainty. 

Show question

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