Friday, September 20, 2019

Poem - The Laburnum Top - Class 11 English Hornbill

The Laburnum Top - Text
Laburnum Tree

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 suddenness, 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 a 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.

Word Meaning of the Poem Laburnum Top

Word Meaning
laburnum Laburnum, sometimes called golden chain or golden rain, is a genus of two species of small trees in the subfamily Faboideae of the pea family Fabaceae.
goldfinch a kind of bird, a brightly coloured finch with yellow feathers in the plumage.
twitching 1a : a brief spasmodic contraction of the muscle fibers. b : a slight jerk of a body part. 2 : an act of twitching especially : a short sudden pull or jerk.
chirrup make high-pitched sounds; "the birds were chirping in the bushes"
startlement the state of being strongly impressed by something unexpected or unusual. the look of startlement in her eyes when she found herself at the wedding seated next to her ex-boyfriend.
chittering a chirping noise
tremor of wings an involuntary quivering movement(of wings)
trillings produce a quavering or warbling sound, chirruping, twittering
tremble (of a person, a part of the body, or the voice) shake involuntarily, typically as a result of anxiety, excitement, or frailty.
thrill (v.) cause (someone) to have a sudden feeling of excitement and pleasure.
stoking (the engine) add coal or other solid fuel to (a fire, furnace, boiler, etc.).
flirt out (of a bird) wave or open and shut (its wings or tail) with a quick flicking motion.
barred face identity mask
  mask having bars or lines like pattern
eerie strange and frightening.

Summary of the Poem

Goldfinch Bird

The poem “The Laburnum Top” by Ted Hughes describes the mutual relation between a Laburnum Tree and a goldfinch. Both of them are yellow in colour (the tree is yellow because of its flowers) and quite beautiful in appearance.


The Laburnum Tree is beautiful, large but quite silent and getting naked because of winter. However, the bird, Goldfinch appears from the sky and soon the whole tree is surrounded by the sweet chirps of the bird and her young ones. It was previously dead and now it seems to be alive and shaking until the bird vanishes away again. Dead silence prevails.


The poem has been divided into three stanzas. There is not set rhyme scheme. The first stanza describes the tree before the bird reaches it. The second stanza describes the coming of the bird and the final stanza tells the condition of the tree when the bird goes away.


In the first stanza, the poet says that he saw a Laburnum Tree (with its yellow flowers). In his words, “The Laburnum top is silent“. The tree is still and looks dead-like in the day time of September. Even the sunlight is also yellow. As it is the time of autumn, the leaves of the tree have turned yellow and its seeds have fallen off it.

In this stanza, the poet uses the image “yellow” colour repeatedly. First the tree’s flowers are yellow, then its leaves have also turned yellow and the sunlight is also yellow.

The yellow color symbolises beauty (because of flowers, which, though have fallen off in the form of seeds), death (because of yellow leaves) as well as silence (day time without rain or wind). In the whole stanza, the poet is trying to describe the miserable condition of the Laburnum Tree which is silent, dying and without seeds (useless).

The death-like scene however changes as soon as the goldfinch comes with a twitching chirrup. Goldfinch is a bright yellow coloured bird. Twitching chirrup means “short chirping sounds”.

The bird is quite precautious while sitting at a branch end of the tree and has sudden quick movements. Perhaps it is looking out for any danger that might be there.

It then goes into the thick bark of the Laburnum Tree smoothly but abruptly with alertness. As soon as she enters the tree (her nest is inside the Laburnum Tree), a machine starts up of chitterings, and a tremor of wings, and trillings.

The image of machine here refers to the young ones of the bird. A machine makes a lot of noise when it starts. Similarly, when the young birds see their mother they start chirping like a machine, flattering their wings in joy as their mother has come with food. They were hungry as well as sad being far from their mother.

Now the whole tree trembles and thrills because of the mother bird and her young ones. The poet probably wants us to feel how a solitary and silent tree becomes alive because it has given space to the bird and her young ones. The birds have gotten shelter and the tree in return has got life.

The goldfinch is thus the engine of her family which includes the Laburnum tree as well. According to the poet it fills them with fuel i.e. it gives food to the young ones and thrill to the tree. Having done that, she again flies to a branch-end. Only her dark-coloured striped face is visible as it is yellow and hence becomes invisible in the yellow leaves of the tree.

Reaching the branch-end of the tree, it makes strange but sweet chirping sounds and then begins his journey towards the infinite i.e. the sky and the Laburnum Tree again becomes silent again.

The Laburnum Top Questions and Answers

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

    ANSWER: The first line of the poem, "The Laburnum top is silent, quite still" and the last line of the poem, "And the laburnum subsides to empty" indicate that before the arrival and departure of the bird the laburnum top was quiet and still. 

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

    ANSWER: The bird's movement is compared to that of a lizard. When the bird comes back with food to feed the chicks and enters the thickness of the laburnum top, the way the bird moves reminds the poet of the movement of a lizard in its abruptness, sleekness and alertness.  

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

    ANSWER: "It is the engine of her family", the engine is a key component in a machinery that gets the job done. The arrival of the bird and the trillings of the young checks in response make the tree alive like an engine. The tree makes it possible the bird and her chicks are safe and are able to move forward in the life process.

  4. What do you like the most about the poem?

    ANSWER: I like the imagery of laburnum tree as the engine of the goldfinch family coming to life with tremors and trillings when the bird arrives to feed her young chicks. The use of literary devices like simile and alliterations make the poem more sonorous, appealing and meaningful.

  5. What does the phrase "her barred face identity mask" mean?

    ANSWER:
    British Goldfinch with 'barred face identity mask'
    The phrase "her barred face identity mask" means the unique pattern of goldfinches found in the United Kingdom where the poet belonged to. The goldfinch birds have a distinct mask like pattern on their head as if wearing a mask. 

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