Class XI – Hornbill – The Laburnum Top

THE LABURNUM TOP
By Ted Hughes

About the Author

Edward James Hughes was an English poet and children’s writer. He was born in Mytholmroyd, in the West Riding district of Yorkshire, England on August 17, 1930. His childhood was quiet and dominately rural.

After high school, Hughes entered the Royal Air Force and served for two years as a ground wireless mechanic. He then moved to Cambridge to attend Pembroke College on an academic scholarship. While in college he published a few poems and studied mythologies extensively. Hughes graduated from Cambridge in 1954.

Hughes was married to an American Poet Sylvia Plath in 1956. He lived in Massachusetts with Plath and taught at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. They returned to England in 1959, and their first child, Freida, was born the following year. Their second child, Nicholas, was born two years later.

In 1962, Hughes left Plath as he was in affair with another woman Assia Gutmann Wevill. Less than a year later, Plath committed suicide. Hughes did not write again for years, as he focused all of his energy on editing and promoting Plath’s poems.

In 1965, Wevill gave birth to their only child, Shura. Four years later, like Plath, she also commited suicide, killing Shura as well. The following year, in 1970, Hughes married Carol Orchard, with whom he remained married until his death.

Hughes won many of Europe’s highest literary honors, and was appointed Poet Laureate of England in 1984, a post he held until his death. He passed away in October 28, 1998, in Devonshire, England, from cancer.

Poem: The Laburnum Top

The Laburnum Top is silent, quite still
In the afternoon yellow September sunlight,
A few leaves yellowing, all its seeds fallen

Till the goldfinch comes, with a twitching chirrup
A suddeness, a startlement, at a branch end.
Then sleek as a lizard, and alert and abrupt,
She enters the thickness, and a machine starts up
Of chitterings, and of tremor of wings,and trillings –
The whole tree trembles and thrills
It is the engine of her family.
She stokes it full, then flirts out to a branch-end
Showing her barred face identity mask

Then with eerie delicate whistle-chirrup whisperings
She launches away, towards the infinite

And the laburnum subsides to empty.

By Ted Hughes

Introduction

The poem presents a reciprocating relationship between the laburnum tree and the goldfinch, a small bird with yellow feathers. She arrives in her nest to feed her young ones. The poem describes how a little bird awakens the quiet and sleepy laburnum tree and makes it alive.

Summary

The poem begins with the description of the laburnum ‘top’. On a September afternoon, the top of the tree stands silent and still. The leaves of the tree have started turning yellow and the seeds have already fallen. The scene depicts the season of autumn.

The silence of the tree is broken with the sudden arrival of the goldfinch. The bird arrives at the end of the branch with a chirrup. Then she abruptly enters the thickness of the branches just like a lizard. As she arrives, it seems as if a machine has started up as the young ones of the goldfinch are filled with excitement and start creating noise on the arrival of their mother. They start chirruping and fluttering their wings.. With their chirrups and movements, the whole tree comes alive and it ‘trembles and thrills’. Thus, it becomes the engine of her family. She feeds the young ones and after feeding them she comes to a branch-end showing her barred face.

Finally, with a whistle-chirrup, she flies towards the vast sky leaving the tree once again calm and quiet.

Main Points

1. Laburnum tree top – calm & quiet
2. Sudden arrival of Goldfinch with a chirrup
3. Sleek, abrupt and alert like a lizard
4. Enters the thickness of the tree
5. A machine of chitterings starts up
6. The whole tree comes alive – excites and thrills
7. Feeds her young ones
8. Then comes out to a branch-end and flies in the sky
9. Laburnum becomes calm and quiet again.

Meanings of Difficult Words & Phrases

Laburnum: a small tree with hanging branches of yellow flowers and poisonous seeds
Laburnum Top: The top of the laburnum tree
Goldfinch: a small singing bird with yellow feathers on wings
Twitch: movement of a small body part.
Chirrup: sound made by birds
Startlement: amazement, a sudden unexpected action which causes surprise
Sleek: Smooth
Abrupt: Sudden or unexpected
Chittering: singing sound of a bird
Tremor: Shiver – shake
Trillings: Singing repeatedly
Stokes: add fuel to the engine
Flirts: moves briskly
Eerie: strange
Infinite: (here) the sky
Launches: flies away
Subsides: returns

Important Extracts followed by Short Answer Type Questions

1. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

The Laburnum Top is silent, quite still
In the afternoon yellow September sunlight,
A few leaves yellowing, all its seeds fallen.

Q. Why is the laburnum top silent?

Ans. The top of the laburnum tree is silent because the young ones of the goldfinch are anxiously waiting for their mother with food.

Q. What is the significance of ‘yellow’ in the poem?

Ans. Both the laburnum tree and the goldfinch’s feathers are yellow in color. So the babies escape being noticed by any predator with this effect. Thus the yellow colour provides high security to the young ones of the Goldfinch.

2. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

Till the goldfinch comes, with a twitching chirrup
A suddeness, a startlement, at a branch end.
Then sleek as a lizard, and alert and abrupt,
She enters the thickness, and a machine starts up
Of chitterings, and of tremor of wings, and trillings –
The whole tree trembles and thrills.

Q. What happens to the laburnum when the goldfinch arrives?

Ans. The sudden arrival and movement of the bird stirs the tree. Her little ones are excited to see the mother and they start chirruping and fluttering their wings.

Q. Why is the goldfinch stealing into her nest? / Why does she enter the thickness?

Ans. The cautious goldfinch enters the tree with great care that no predator would spot her babies which are securely housed in the nest.

Q. What is the machine that starts up with the arrival of the bird?

Ans. As the bird arrives, her little ones become excited to see the mother and they start chirruping and fluttering their wings to get food from their mother. It seems as the machine starts up.

Q. What is the bird’s movement compared to?

Ans. The bird’s movement is compared to a lizard. It is sleek, abrupt and alert like a lizard.

3. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

It is the engine of her family.
She stokes it full, then flirts out to a branch-end
Showing her barred face identity mask.

Q. What is the engine of her family?

Ans. The nest with the little ones is the engine of the goldfinch family. They start chirruping and fluttering their wings to see their mother with food.

Q. Why does the bird flirt out to a branch end showing her barred face identity mask?

Ans. The bird is very cautious about the safety of her young ones. She also reveals her identity to the babies by showing her barred face. It is the mark of her recognition and reminds them that she is their mother.

4. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

Then with eerie delicate whistle-chirrup whisperings
She launches away, towards the infinite
And the laburnum subsides to empty.

Q. Where does the bird fly to?

Ans. The bird leaves its babies and flies in search of more food before they feel hungry again.

Q. What happens to the laburnum with the mother’s departure?

Ans. With the mother bird’s departure, the laburnum tree becomes calm and quiet again.

Textual Questions

Q1. What laburnum is called in your language?

Ans. In Hindi, it is called ‘Amaltaas’.

Q2. Which local bird is like the goldfinch?

Ans. ‘Indian Lutino Ringneck’ is a local bird like the goldfinch.

Q3. What do you notice about the beginning and the ending of the poem?

Ans. In the beginning and the ending of the poem, the tree is calm & silent.

Q4. To what is the bird’s movement compared? What is the basis for the comparison?

Ans. The goldfinch’s movement is compared to a lizard. The basis for the comparison is that it is sleek, abrupt and alert like a lizard. The same kinds of movements are observed when the goldfinch arrives on the laburnum tree.

Q5. Why is the image of the engine evoked by the poet?

Ans. An engine is a source of energy to run a machine. It is compared to the bird as she is too a source of energy for her family. A machine can’t work without an engine. Similarly the bird’s family can’t survive without her.

Q6. What does the phrase “her barred face identity mask” mean?

Ans. The phrase means that the bird’s barred face becomes her identity mask and a mark of recognition.

——–xxXxx——–

Image Reference: mirror.co.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.