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In order to understand the poem properly, one needs to pay attention to its key words. According to Elizabeth Bishop, every word in poetry matters. The need for close poetry reading reading is conditioned by the value of each meaning for the general picture (Bishop). Since there are not many words in each poem, one needs to have a clear understanding of every word used by poets in their woks.
Aftermath by Longfellow consists of only two stanzas; the word choices are very accurate and clear. The title is crucial in this case so it is necessary to define what aftermath means and research the etymology of this word. In the Online Etymology Dictionary, it is stated that the origin of the word aftermath dates back to 1520-s. It meant “a second crop of grass grown after the first had been harvested ” and consisted of two parts after + an Old English word mæð that was defines as cutting grass (“Aftermath”). The figurative meaning of this word appeared later in 1650-s. Contrary to this original meaning, now aftermath is defines as “the consequences of significant unpleasant event” in the Oxford Dictionary. Obviously, Longfellow uses both meanings to intensify the overall impression after reading the poem and give readers a hint about its content. The first line of the poem underpins the etymology of the word aftermath, “When the summer fields are mown” (Longfellow).
In the next line Longfellow moves to a short description of the next season, “When the birds are fledged and flown” (Longfellow). The word fledged means that birds have already grown up and their wings are ready to fly long distances. With the next line “And the dry leaves strew the path” readers understand that the poet talks about autumn when nature fades out and birds fly away to warmer places (Longfellow). The transformation of nature is continued further in the next lines where the fields covered with snow continue the cycle of lead to new grass and its
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