Imagery and symbolism in No Worst, There is None

Fear and torment

Words and images meld together densely in the poetic texture. Images and diction of torment predominate, at least in the octave:

  • ‘pangs'; ‘wilder wring'; ‘on an age-old anvil wince' (as if he were being hammered); ‘Fury shrieked'.

In the sestet, it is more the inner landscape, the mental geography, that is portrayed:

  • ‘cliffs of fall / Frightful, sheer, no-man fathomed.'
  • ‘fathomed' reminds us of the sea, as sea-depth is measured in fathoms, so a subconscious / subterranean link is made in the image
  • people have ‘hung' there, suggesting torture again
  • the whirlwind provides little shelter in which to ‘creep' (if you have read Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear, you may be reminded of the mad scene on the heath).
Investigating No Worst
  • To what do you think the ‘whirlwind' is referring to?
  • What other images strike you in the sonnet?
  • Explain the imagery of l.5.
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.