The Clothesline by Charlotte Druitt Cole
Hand in hand they dance in a row,
Hither and thither, and to and fro,
Flip! Flap! Flop! and away they go —
Flutt’ring creatures as white as snow,
Like restive horses they caper and prance;
Like fairy-tale witches they wildly dance;
Rounded in front, but hollow behind,
They shiver and skip in the merry March wind.
One I saw dancing excitedly,
Struggling so wildly till she was free,
Then, leaving pegs and clothesline behind her,
She flew like a bird, and no one can find her.
I saw her gleam, like a sail, in the sun,
Flipping and flapping and flopping for fun.
Nobody knows where she now can be,
Hid in a ditch, or drowned in the sea.
She was my handkerchief not long ago,
But she’ll never come back to my pocket, I know.
restive : restless, fidgety, unable to remain still
caper : leap, skip or dance about in a lively, playful manner
prance : walk or move with high, springy steps
wildly : Here, it means very hard, violently.
pegs : pins used to secure something in place, as for example, clothes on a clothesline
The poetess Charlotte Druitt Cole is talking about the clothes hanging on the clothesline. To her, they look as if they are holding hands, standing in a row and dancing merrily. She compares them to the white birds that fly in the sky.
Here the poetess compares the clothes hanging on the clothesline to restless horses that are leaping and galloping with happiness. As the clothes flutter on the clothesline, they form a bowl like shape that is round at the edges and hollow in the centre. The poetess also feels that the clothes are shivering and skipping in the wind that is very happy during the month of March.
Without specifically stating, the poetess says that once she saw someone dance excitedly and with great struggle she freed herself. Then leaving the pegs and the clothesline she flew like a bird so far that o one was able to follow her and now no one can find her.
Continuing with the suspense, the poetess compares ‘that someone’ to a shinning sail. The poetess tells us that she was flipping, flapping and flopping away with happiness. She flew away so fast that nobody knows where she went and where she could be. Thinking of the worst that could happen, the poetess wonders whether she is hiding in a ditch or may have drowned in the sea.
It’s only in the last two lines of the poem that the poetess reveals that she was talking about her handkerchief that flew away not very long ago. She is sure that it will not come back to her and it is lost forever.
The poetess begins the poem with a happy note of clothes dancing on the clothes line but she ends it with a sad note of her handkerchief flying away and never coming back.
1. Read the poem aloud. Recite any stanza of your choice from memory.
2. Answer the following questions with reference to the poem.
(a) What is described in the poem ?
Answer: The poet has described the clothes hanging on the clothesline.
(b) What are the clothes compared to? Give two examples.
Answer: The clothes are compared to white snow, restive horses, fairy-tale witches and a bird.
(c) What do restive horses do ?
Answer: The restive horses caper and prance.
(d) What do fairy-tale witches do ?
Answer: The fairy-tale witches dance wildly.
(e) What did one of the fluttering creatures do ?
Answer: One of the fluttering creatures struggled wildly, till it was free. Then it left all the pegs and clothes-line behind and flew like a bird.
(f) What could have happened to the one who flew away ? Who was she ?
Answer: The one who flew away could have hid in a ditch or drowned in the sea. She was the poetess’ handkerchief.
3. Form groups and discuss the following questions :
(a) Why are the clothes compared to living things ?
Answer: The clothes are compared to living things because just like living things want to enjoy and have fun when the weather is good, so also the clothes want to dance and flutter & fly.
(b) The events described in the poem take place at a certain place, at a certain period of the year, under specific weather conditions. Describe the place, the time and the weather conditions.
Answer: The events in the poem seem to take place in the backyard of a house in the month of March. It must be the spring or summer season as there is wind in the air and it is warm.
4. When we say that two or more words rhyme, we mean that they end with the same sound or syllable. For example, ‘ring-sing’. Rhyming words are often used in verse at the end of the lines. List the rhyming words from the poem. Note the words ‘behind’ and ‘wind’. They have similar spellings, that is, they look the same. But they are pronounced differently, that is, they do not ‘sound’ the same. This is known as ‘eye rhyme’. Separate the examples of eye rhymes from the following list.
|Rhyming Words||Eye Rhyme words|
|cry- try||none – shone|
|stronger – longer||shut – put|
|laughter – daughter||imply – simply|
|won – done|
|known – grown|
|beat – feat|
5. List all the phrases from the poem in which two or more words are joined with ‘and’.
- hither and thither
- caper and prance
- shiver and skip
- flipping and flapping and flopping
6. Form groups and discuss what must have happened to the handkerchief. Write the story in your own words.
Answer: Students must try to answer on their own.
7. Wash your handkerchief clean. Hang it with a peg to dry in the wind. Watch how it flutters.
Answer: Students must try this activity on their own.
8. Complete the following comparisons.
as white as …………….
as green as …………….
as red as …………….
as blue as …………….
as black as …………….
as bright as …………….
Answer: as white as snow
as green as emerald
as red as cherry
as blue as the sky
as black as coal
as bright as the stars
(a) Rewrite these comparisons using the comparative degree.
Example : Whiter than snow
Greener than emerald
Redder than cherry
Bluer than the sky
Blacker than coal
Brighter than the stars
(b) Find suitable objects for each comparison.
Example : Petals or flowers or feathers whiter than snow.
The petals of the lily were whiter than snow.
The grass was greener than emerald.
The rose was redder than cherry.
The water was bluer than the sky.
The crow was blacker than coal.
The diamonds were shinning brighter than the stars.
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