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Sweet Afton

Depth of a River
Poetic expression is evolved from a web of emotions and thoughts. With the help of imagery, formation, and figurative language, a poet is able to transport readers to another world of his creation. Robert Burns uses these attributes to invite readers into world of peace and serenity in his poem “Sweet Afton.” This lyrical poem expresses the gratitude the persona feels for his homeland’s beauty, while asking nature to be quiet so his love may enjoy the tranquillity of her sleep. Burns’s use of imagery, use of figurative language, and construction with musical aspects help him convey his feelings and ideas to his readers.

With the rolling hills, winding streams, and wandering sheep, Burns has created a pastoral setting in “Sweet Afton.” Burns use of imagery helps add to the reality of the poem. A reader is able to hear the blackbirds’ whistling, the dove’s resounding echo, and the lapwing’s screaming. A reader is able to see snowy feet, crystal streams, and green valleys. A reader can even smell the sweet-scented birch. Burns appeals to senses by using imagery words that create the illusion of sound, sight, and smell. Imagery helps express the persona’s feelings in his environment, enabling the reader to stand along with him in his world.

Slow-moving rivers symbolize the simple life. Peace is traveling at a pace easily kept. There are no dangerous undercurrents or rocky obstacles; Afton River is gliding crystal. Burns is able to create this illusion through figurative language. He also uses apostrophe by having the persona command the river and wildlife to be quiet, as in “Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream,” (lines 4 and 24). Much like imagery, figurative language is another vehicle used to carry the feelings of the persona to the reader.

“Sweet Afton” is a poem broken up into six stanzas. Each stanza contains four lines. These stanzas attribute to the musical effect of the poem. The first and last stanzas are incremental refrains. Burns uses this repetition to emphasize his plea for the river to flow gently and his great appreciation for its beauty. The middle four stanzas each focus on a different feature of nature. The second stanza focuses on the sounds of the birds in the narrow and secluded valleys. The beauty of the surrounding hills, little streams, and the persona’s own sheep are emphasized in the third stanza. The fourth stanza focuses on the banks, flowers, trees, and meadows. The fifth stanza focuses on Afton River and Mary, the persona’s love. The poem is written in anapestic tetrameter. A rhyme scheme of AABBCC…etc. is used with every two end syllables rhyming in each of the six stanzas. Alliteration is found throughout the poem, such as “My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream,” (lines 3 and 23), and “Where, wild in the woodlands, the primroses blow,” (line 14). These features add to the musical effect of the poem and help convey the ideas of the poem with the organized thoughts.

Any author is able to write a simple statement of what he or she is feeling, but it would not be as effective as the words of a poet. A reader must experience the environment and feelings of the characters. This is achieved in “Sweet Afton.” Burns is able to transport readers from a hectic life to a serene world by using steady rhythm and rhyme, sensory words, and figures of speech. The web of emotions and thoughts suddenly becomes less tangled when one is able to relate to a work of literature. Poetry exists to help untangle the webs, for both the author and the reader.