John Crowe Ransom is today better known as a critic, but he also wrote excellent poetry. One of my favourites is 'Vision by Sweetwater', which, because it is short and not too well known, I hope the reader will forgive me for giving in full:

Vision by Sweetwater

Go and ask Robin to bring the girls over
To Sweetwater, said my Aunt; and that was why
It was like a dream of ladies sweeping by
The willows, clouds, deep meadowgrass, and the river.

Robin's sisters and my Aunt's lily daughter
Laughed and talked, and tinkled light as wrens
If there were a little colony all hens
To go walking by the steep turn of Sweetwater.

Let them alone, dear Aunt, just for one minute
Till I go fishing in the dark of my mind:
Where have I seen before, against the wind,
These bright virgins, robed and bare of bonnet,

Flowing with music of their strange quick tongue
And adventuring with delicate paces by the stream,—
Myself a child, old suddenly at the scream
From one of the white throats which it hid among?

How are we to understand the dramatic shift in tone in the last two lines?

Is this poem autobiographical? If so, does 'the scream/ From one of the white throats' correspond to a known incident?

If the poem is not a factual account of a specific event, how are we to interpret the girl's scream? How it strikes me is that either (1) the narrator stumbles on one of the girls naked (more likely), or (2) something macabre, such as a dead body, floats down the watercourse (less likely). Interpretation (1) would fit with the broader spirit of the poem, i.e. the awakening of narrator's sexual feelings; but it's hardly clear.

I have also read some critics claiming that the poem is a loose retelling of Susanna and the Elders, and such critics usually connect the fact that Susanna means lily to the image of the 'lily daughter' for support. But that line of argument seems pretty thin to me.


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