Poetry Analysis – The Planter’s Daughter

We had a semi-academic discussion going on the meaning of Austin Clarke’s The Planters Daughter. The resident Irishman finally posted his analysis so I’m bumping the topic.

Click here for the original post.

The Planter’s Daughter by Austin Clarke

When night stirred at sea
And the fire brought a crowd in,
They say that her beauty
Was music in mouth
And few in the candlelight
Thought her too proud,
For the house of the planter
Is known by the trees.

Men that had seen her
Drank deep and were silent,
The women were speaking
Wherever she went –
As a bell that is rung
Or a wonder told shyly,
And O she was the Sunday
In every week.

P’s Analysis (which, in my completely unbiased opinion, is brilliant)

Without going in too much detail, the Planter (meaning someone who was planted by the government in a new area, e.g. from Scotland to Ireland) is the local landlord. He’d be much wealthier than his tenants, have a grander house (what’s known as “The Big House”) would have bought his estate for a pretty nominal fee from the government and would probably be a different religion to his tenants. So his daughter would be unobtainable though the poem implies she was down-to-earth and approachable. Also, Clarke is known for his lyricism, “music in mouth”, to give my favourite example. Some of the images he uses are typical of his time and place. For example, “the Sunday/ In every week” (another wonderful and lyrical phrase) refers to a time when Sunday *was* a special day, a day of rest that was looked forward to and on which people wore their “Sunday clothes”. It’s Clarke’s way of saying just how special she is.

What do you think?



    I kept checking back and still nothing… Paddy, are you SLACKING?

    OK, here’s my question (I’m HORRID at interpretation of poetry) what is the meaning of this part?

    And few in the candlelight
    Thought her too proud,
    For the house of the planter
    Is known by the trees.

    When I first read that, I thought that it meant that she acted too proud or haughty for such humble means. But if being a “planter” actually implies wealth then I don’t get it. And the reference to trees…. TOTALLY lost on that one. I thought that was just another reference to being of more humble means.

    I think I read poetry from an overly literal perspective.
    Can someone please explain it for the “slow” one?

    1. It’s a reference again to the “planter” being the local landowner. Traditionally the house of an Irish landlord or owner has been obscured on all four sides by a row of tall trees, e.g. poplars or birches, and would generally be recognised by the rectangular or square profile those trees would show.

      It would also show that traditionally her family would be a cut above the local people and unapproachable in most matters, thus neatly contrasting her behaviour and demeanour (approachable and humble) with what was traditionally expected of the landowning class.

    2. “the candle light” implies a gathering of folk at night in an imagined dark close spot huddled together by the candlelight discussing affairs, the implication is that hese are local likely common folk (the folk who have been displaced, often by force, from their lands to majke way for the “planted” landlord (see the “Plantation of Ulster”, planted refers to the planting of people not shrubbery!) these people are likely poorer and of a different caste to the planter, and his daughter. That these often severly downtrodden people hold her in a good light “few thught her too proud” suggest that this girl transcends the caste divide not only by virtue of her looks but also her demeanour.
      The house of the planter, or “the big huose” as paddy put it, is the house which the landlord has been “planted” into, a way bigger house than what the locals would have and very grand in appearance, this appearance often augmented by trees and landscaped gardens, thus this draws a parallel with the planter himself adn the daughter, despite the planters likely obvious faults, adn likely misdemeanuors to the locals his household is known for the beauty of this girl rather then for the household itself….joe
      in general the historical context of the poem is crucial to its understanding…

  2. Oh, and thanks for interpreting it in the first place, “Paddy, the Resident Irishman”!

    **See Lila, I CAN be tactful – I’m not always brutally blunt. I even use manners sometimes.**

  3. Thanks for all the compliments. I’m not sure how unbiased Lila is though. 🙂

    Apologies for the delay in posting but my home internet connection is terrible at the moment.

    You seem to have agriculture on the brain Lila. Is that cuz you have crops? Also, were you thinking of farmers or farm boys? 😉

    More seriously, I’ll admit to being confused by the “Thought her too proud,
    For the house of the planter
    Is known by the trees.”
    lines. Traditionally, the Planter would have the best house in the in the parish and it often stood on wooded grounds. As for being too proud, my reading is that though she was from a much wealthier background then her neighbours, she was still approachable even though you might expect her to be haughty and aloof. Then again, I could be completely wrong…

  4. “And few in the candlelight thought her too proud,
    For the house of the planter is known by the trees.”

    Here’s how I take it: It seems the locals expected the usual hauteur and distancing from the planter’s daughter. Instead she proved as pleasing, fresh and full of life as a lovely stand of trees, which soften and naturalize a grand house that would otherwise seem forbidding.

    Here the term “house of the planter” works two ways, referring to an architectural structure, and to a family lineage as in “The House of Tudor.”–Jeanne

  5. off the top of my head, my interpretation of the lines:

    And few in the candlelight
    Thought her too proud,
    For the house of the planter
    Is known by the trees.

    That ‘few’ people in the crowd felt her too proud and haughty to be in their company, for the planter was known to be separated, isolated as it were, from the rest of the community that the trees that surrounded their house. Now anybody from Ireland, or the British Isles, will know that the houses of landlords were totally separate and almost hidden from view at times by the woods that surrounded their houses.

    My interpretation is that only a small number people in the crowd are suprised that she does not display this sense of separation from them, she does not consider herself too proud to be among them and to mingle with them, contary to the behaviour of her planter contemporaries in ireland at the time.

    just a thought

  6. the sea reference in the 1st line indicates that this is probably somewhere in the west of ireland. As Cromwell noted often there was ‘not a tree tall enough to hang a man from’ in the west. A scarce resoures is a valuable resource; for shelter for both livestock & property; for fuel. A stand of trees would be valued for other reasons historically. Old Celtic beliefs suggest the sacred nature of trees such as the Oak or the Holly. Practically, trees are not proud, they are of the environment, bending to the prevailing winds that blow. Thus, this woman, beyond her beauty was many more invaluable things.
    the irish are not given to the literal.
    the lyrical interwined with the land, and the land’s history.

  7. I heard this poem on a Clancy Brothers LP when I was a kid. I figured that the planter was a nurseryman that planted and grew foliage around his house : the house of the planter is known by the trees. His daughter was beautiful and is appreciated by young and old alike. She was admired by both men and women. She was a quality person and brightened up any situation, a welcome addition to gatherings, either in person, or as a topic of conversation. She reminded me of Darcey Farrow in the folksong (daughter of Old Dundee, and a fair one was she, the sweetest flower that blooms ‘or the plain).
    I really enjoyed what other people had to say about the poem. Many of the thaughts would have never found their way into my head unless I’d read them. Thanks.

  8. The planter is an outsider. Trees were planted for shelter. Poor people cut neighbouring trees for firewood and thus did not enjoy such protection. Many planters houses of some size had an avenue, often tree lined.

    Even in a shadowy setting, her beauty is evident. There is something about the observers being drawn to the heat source and to the light when darkness falls elsewhere. Like the light and the heat her beauty could be deemed radiant.

    Music of course was one the strongest cultural expressions in rustic society in Ireland and Scotland was/is highly valued. There may be an inference that her beauty was akin to good singing as well as she herself having an attractive mouth of the kissable variety ( in-phógtha in gaelic)

    Interestingly, men drank by way of expressing their unspoken admiration while women chatted among themselves in making the same observation.

    She was but one in seven, well inside the modern upper quartile! Sunday was supposed to be the most meaningful day. On the seventh day , God saw looked at what he had done and saw that it was good. The Planters in many cases were from the biblical religious tradition so the poet reflects that in the metaphor.

    The Planter’s daughter : procreation, here to stay, generation on generation, among you, not entirely separate and can be admired irrespective of any other sentiments that may be felt. A one to many relationship.

    This is wonderful poem with great cultural resonance, a fine cast and great imagery.

  9. i know this to be a truely great poem

    i reckon it is a poem of reconciliation – more to come

    the ‘planter history in Ireland’ is as bad as it gets
    both for planted and plantees !!

    so. . . .

  10. Pingback: planter house
  11. This wonderful poem is all about her beauty (the captivating fire).

    Her beauty was complimented with humility (a rare combination) and the house of the planter being known by the trees is metaphorical evidence of her display of humility.

  12. The trees are magnificent around the ‘big house’ but surely these were symbolic or a projection of the power of the householder in the poem. Why not the have the ‘seed’ of the planter, his daughter, take on some of that symbolism to say that her manner/appearance might be in keeping with the general projection/perception?

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