In the poem “Sheltered Garden”, what does precipitate mean on the last line of this stanza?

Every way ends, every road,
every foot-path leads at last
to the hill-crest --
then you retrace your steps,
or find the same slope on the other side,

The annotations linked above suggests it refers to precipitation, implying to go down the other slope. That sort of makes sense, but it isn't a meaning of precipitate that I've heard before. Is there a better meaning behind the use of that word at the end of this stanza?

3 Answers 3


Hilda Doolittle's poem dates to 1916, so the meaning of precipitate comes from that era. Perhaps one of:

  1. Overhasty; rash; as, the king was too precipitate in declaring war. Clarendon.
  2. Lacking due deliberation or care; hurried; said or done before the time; as, a precipitate measure. The rapidity of our too precipitate course." Landor.
  3. Falling, flowing, or rushing, with steep descent; headlong.

Def. 2, with it's melancholic intimation of 'before its time' might fit well with the rest of the poem.


I think it's the adjective in the first instance, meaning "sudden, abrupt", chosen for its echo of precipitous meaning "steep", with a not-much-remoter suggestion that the speaker is on the point of falling down—or even throwing herself down out of vexation with the cloying pink borders that swaddle her.

But your guess is as good as mine.


Precipitate can mean to fall quickly, to throw downward with force, steep, sudden, and other similar definitions, so your interpretation is correct. Even with all of these possible definitions, however, the exact meaning is still ambiguous, I think. Did the author mean "precipitate" in that the slope was steep? Or did they mean "precipitate" as in to go down rapidly (or just to go down)? The choice is ultimately yours, as is often the case with poetry.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.