English Literature


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Exploring the Themes and Techniques in Elizabeth Jennings' Poem 'Delay'

In 1956, renowned English poet Elizabeth Jennings first published her emotionally charged poem 'Delay' in the New Lines Anthology edited by Robert Conquest. While not addressing difficult subjects like many of her other works, 'Delay' delves into the complexities of love and the impact of chance and miscommunication on romantic relationships.

Written in iambic pentameter with an ABAB rhyme scheme, 'Delay' is a regular form poem consisting of two quatrains. Jennings makes use of poetic devices such as metaphor, personification, enjambment, and caesura to convey her themes of time and love. The imagery of starlight and uncertainty adds to the dreamy and romantic tone of the poem.

Biography and Literary Background

Born in 1926, Elizabeth Jennings lived until 2001. She studied English at Oxford University and worked at the Oxford City Library, where she developed her passion for writing poetry. Jennings was part of a group of writers known as 'The Movement', who were celebrated for their mastery of meter and rhyme in lyric poetry.

The term 'The Movement' was coined by J.D. Scott, literary editor of The Spectator, in 1954 and included other renowned poets such as Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin. 'Delay' opened Jennings' section in the New Lines Anthology, and later appeared in many of her other collections. It was also featured in the 'Poems On The Underground' project, which aimed to bring poetry to a wider audience through London's transport networks.

During her lifetime, Jennings published and was featured in around thirty different poetry collections. She also received the Somerset Maugham Award in 1956, a prestigious literary prize given by the Society of Authors.

An Analysis of Elizabeth Jennings' Poem 'Delay'

Using an extended metaphor of starlight, 'Delay' explores how coincidences and timing can impact love and relationships. The title itself, 'Delay', can be interpreted both as a verb and a noun, introducing the theme of time and its influence on love.

The first stanza introduces the 'star' and its 'radiance', which may never reach earth. This idea of missed opportunities and uncertainty is carried through the rest of the poem, as the use of caesura and enjambment creates a sense of flow within the regular form of the poem.

A Summary of 'Delay' and its Themes

In 'Delay', Elizabeth Jennings portrays love as something beyond our control, subject to chance and timing. The use of the star as a metaphor adds a dreamy and romantic element, while the uncertainty and missed opportunities evoke a sense of longing. The title sets the tone and theme for the poem, influencing how the rest of the poem is interpreted. Overall, 'Delay' is a poignant and thought-provoking reflection on the complexities of love and its relationship with time.

Exploring the Impact of Caesura and Enjambment in Poetry

Caesura and enjambment are two poetic techniques that add depth and meaning to a poem's structure. In the case of 'Delay' by Elizabeth Jennings, these devices emphasize certain words and contribute to the overall tone of the poem.

The second stanza directly introduces the theme of love and its connection to delay or misinterpretation. The poet acknowledges the idea of not realizing someone's love until it is too late, using the delayed light from a star as a metaphor for this concept. This extended metaphor of love and starlight is a recurring theme in the rest of the poem.

The structure of 'Delay', consisting of two quatrains with an ABAB rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter, reflects the poem's theme of love. The regular rhythm created by the rhyme scheme adds a wistful tone, while the use of enjambment breaks this regularity and creates a sense of delay and disconnection. Overall, the use of caesura and enjambment in 'Delay' enhances the impact of the poem's themes and adds depth to its structure.

The Power of Poetic Structure in Elizabeth Jennings' "Delay"

In "Delay," Elizabeth Jennings effectively utilizes poetic techniques to explore the themes of love and time. The poem's structure, as a quatrain with iambic pentameter, reflects the rhythm of a heartbeat, reflecting the romantic nature of the piece.


Jennings employs enjambment throughout the poem to create a sense of delay and fragmentation. For instance, in "Love that loves now may not reach me until," the continuation onto the next line mimics the delay in the narrator's love or the arrival of the starlight. This adds meaning to the overall message of the poem.


The use of caesura, a pause or break within a line, is also present in the poem. The second line of each stanza contains a caesura, emphasizing a crucial aspect of the piece. In the first instance, the pause between "years ago" and "now" highlights the passage of time, while the second instance draws attention to the finality of "spent" in the line "Its first desire is spent." These pauses contribute to the overall sense of delay and add to the poem's reflective tone.

The Extended Metaphor of Starlight

The extended metaphor of starlight representing love is prominent throughout the poem. From the opening lines of each stanza, the metaphor adds to the dreamy and wistful atmosphere. Stars are often associated with admiration from a distance, mirroring the narrator's love for the star and the uncertainty of its arrival. This metaphor adds depth and enhances the poem's meaning and tone.

Exploring Literary Devices in "Delay" by Elizabeth Jennings

In "Delay," Jennings uses various poetic devices to convey the themes of love and time. Surprisingly, there are no similes in the poem, which could be because the extended metaphor of starlight and love alone is potent enough to convey the message.


The personification of the star and love adds to their significance and impact in the poem. In the line "The radiance of the star that leans on me," the star is personified, adding an intimate and connected tone to the piece.

In Conclusion

Through the use of enjambment, caesura, and literary devices like extended metaphor and personification, Elizabeth Jennings effectively conveys the themes of love and delay in "Delay." These techniques, in addition to the poem's structure and rhythm, add depth and significance to the overall message of the piece. "Delay" is a thoughtful and reflective exploration of time and love that will resonate with readers of all ages.

The Significance of Time and Love in Elizabeth Jennings' Poem 'Delay'

In her 1956 poem "Delay", Elizabeth Jennings captures the delicate balance between time and love through the metaphor of starlight. The juxtaposition of the first and second stanzas highlights the uncertainty and fleeting nature of these two themes, emphasizing the role coincidence plays in our experiences.

Exploring Romantic Love

The second stanza of "Delay" focuses on the theme of romantic love, with words like "love," "desire," and "beautiful" evoking strong emotions and passion. Jennings expertly weaves in the theme of time, creating a sense of unpredictability and vulnerability in this dreamy portrayal of love. The use of enjambment and iambic pentameter adds to the ethereal and uncontrollable nature of this powerful emotion.

Key Takeaways from Jennings' Masterpiece

Originally published as part of the New Lines Anthology in 1956, "Delay" is a standout piece in Elizabeth Jennings' collection "New Collected Poems". Through the extended metaphor of starlight, Jennings delves into the complexities of time and romantic love, masterfully portraying their intertwined nature and fragility.

The Structure and Themes of "Delay"

In her 2002 collection, "New Collected Poems", English poet Elizabeth Jennings included her renowned piece "Delay". This poem, written in two quatrains with an ABAB rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter, maintains a dreamy tone throughout as it explores the themes of time and romantic love.

Through the metaphor of starlight, Jennings captures the essence of love and its vulnerability, as it is often dependent on chance and the passage of time. The use of imagery and uncertainty further reinforces these themes and showcases Jennings' mastery of language and emotion.

Known for her emotionally charged poetry, Jennings' "Delay" touches on the idea that many aspects of love are beyond our control and heavily influenced by coincidence. Her unique perspective and skillful crafting of words continue to leave a lasting impact on readers.

Elizabeth Jennings, born in 1926, was a renowned member of the poets' group "The Movement", known for their expert use of meter and rhyme in lyrical works. Her passing in 2001 left a void in the literary world, but her thought-provoking and reflective pieces continue to inspire readers today.

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