Stephanie Runner’s Key Passage Analysis on Joanna Baillie’s “Thunder”

The traveler stands aghast and looks to heaven. / On the horizon’s verge thy lightning gleams, / And the first utterance of thy deep voice / Is heard in reverence and holy fear. (Page 30-31, lines 20-23)

In Joanna Baillie’s poem, “Thunder”, Baillie is able to create a religious undertone by linking nature and God. Through this religious undertone, Baillie personifies thunder and is ultimately speaking about the power of God and the fear and respect He invokes in people during the time period.

During the Romanticism era, God was a key link to nature, and nature was how God showed his wrath. The image of the traveler looking to the heavens shows this belief in God, while religion was a common thread in the Romanticism era. The image of the traveler looking to the skies almost creates the image of longing, or looking for an answer, which is most commonly seen in romantic poems when a character is looking to the heavens.

To invoke a daunting theme, the image of the lightning off in the horizon comes off as very ominous and is rather unsettling. This speaks to the fact that God is omnipresent, always off in the horizon, so to speak. However, the word “gleams” (line 21) being used contrasts this tone and deters from the ominous feeling, which could refer to the light that God brings to life.

Similarly, the thunder is personified with “thy deep voice” (line 22). The use of the word “thy” personifies the thunder and gives it a sense of being. This “voice” could be linked to God’s voice, especially since God’s voice is often depicted as deep and thundering.

Finally, the words “reverence” and “holy fear” (line 23)  contrast greatly but speak greatly about the thought people held about religion and God, even to this day. The term reverence is defined as a great respect for something – which in the context of the poem, contains a more positive tone. However, the term is contrasted by “holy fear” which contains a more negative tone. This epitomizes the thoughts about God. People during the time period held a great respect for God and his power, but still were afraid of his abilities. It almost strikes the reader as a sense of awe, similar to the feelings of the traveler.

The poem continues the thought of this “holy fear” and the powers of God in nature throughout the next stanzas, and the personification of the thunder remains as an extended metaphor.

(word count: 406)

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