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Laburnum Top - Sample questions with answers

Short answer questions - 2 marks


‘She launches away, towards the infinite’. Explain the given line.

‘She’ stands for the goldfinch whose arrival on the tree has suddenly transformed it into a noisy place. After having fed her young ones and having made the tree active and full of life, the goldfinch flies away towards the infinitely vast sky.


Why is the image of the engine evoked by the poet?

The poet creates the imagery of a machine starting up when the goldfinch arrives in the tree. The sudden noise and movements produced by the young ones are like the starting of a machine. The stoking of the engine is actually the act of feeding the young ones and imparting energy and life into them.


Describe the laburnum top.

The leaves of the laburnum top are turning yellow due to the autumn. Its seeds have fallen and there is a silence prevailing over the tree. There is no movement at all.


What happened when the goldfinch came to the laburnum tree?

The arrival of the goldfinch brought about a sudden change in the tree. The young ones started twittering and there was a lot of noise, commotion and movement on the tree.


Why has the poem been named ‘The Laburnum Top’?

The poem has been named ‘The Laburnum Top’ because the top of the tree has been described in detail by the poet and the second part is a vivid description of the transformation that the tree undergoes. The entire scenario revolves around the tree.


Explain the first three lines of the poem 'The Laburnum Top'.

The laburnum is the tree whose top part is silent due to lack of movement. There is no breeze and hence there is no rustling of leaves. The time of the day is afternoon. The month is September, and the season is autumn season. The leaves of the tree have started decaying and turning yellow as they are about to fall. The seeds of the laburnum fruit have also fallen.


How is the tree transformed during the bird’s visit? Write the line that shows this transformation.

The tree suddenly starts trembling and moving as if a machine has started up. This is due to the arrival of the goldfinch in her nest in order to feed her young ones. The young ones start their chitterings. There is a tremor of wings. The line that shows the transformation is ‘a machine starts up, of chitterings, and a tremor of wings, and trillings- the whole tree trembles and thrills.

To what is the movement of the goldfinch compared? What is the basis for the comparison?

The goldfinch’s movement is compared to that of a lizard. The basis of the comparison is the sleek, abrupt and alert movements of a lizard. The same kinds of movements are observed when the goldfinch arrives on the laburnum tree.

What does the phrase ‘her barred face identity mask’ means?

This is an example of the poetic device – transferred epithet. The laburnum tree has flowers that fall like bars and when the bird sits behind the flowers the shadow on her face looks like she is wearing a mask that has bars on it. So, barred – is actually an adjective for the flowers and has been transferred from there and applied to the bird.  


‘The whole tree trembles and thrills’. Explain the poetic device used by the poet.

The poetic device used is ‘alliteration’. Tree trembles and thrills signify that the arrival of the goldfinch on the laburnum top is responsible for the movement and the activities on the tree. The tree has suddenly sprung to life and there is shaking and thrilling movement on it. Personification is also used as a poetic device in ‘Tree trembles’.


‘It is the engine of her family, she strokes it full.’ Explain the significance of these lines.

The goldfinch has been called the engine of her family. Just as the engine starts up the machine, her arrival in the nest has suddenly started up the silent machine i.e. the young ones have started chittering and making noise. The expression 'She stokes itfull' means that she has fed the young ones who now have the energy to become active and make noise.


Explain the line ‘And the laburnum subsides to empty’.

This is the last line of the poem depicting the sudden silence which falls over the laburnum tree when the goldfinch flies away after feeding its young ones. It had been on the tree for sometime and the tree had suddenly become lively and noisy but after its departure, the tree becomes silent again.


‘Then sleek as a lizard and alert and abrupt, she enters the thickness’. Explain the given lines.

The lizard is a quick moving animal. It is also very alert and its movements are jerky and abrupt. In the same manner, the goldfinch enters in the thickness of the branches of the tree and feeds her young ones.


What do you notice about the beginning and the ending of the poem?

The beginning of the poem describes a silent laburnum tree which has no noise, movement or life. The ending is also similar where the goldfinch flies away into the vast sky. But the middle part of the poem shows us a totally transformed tree with noise of the young ones compared to a machine.


Why did the goldfinch enter the thickness of the laburnum tree? Quote the line or words that support your answer.

The goldfinch entered the thickness of the laburnum tree because it had to reach its nest where its young ones were waiting to be fed by her. The lines that support the answer are ‘a machine starts up’, ‘of chitterings and a tremor of wings and trillings’.’




Reference to Context


A few leaves yellowing, all its seeds fallen

Till the goldfinch comes, with a twitching chirrup

A suddenness, a startlement, at a branch end.


  1. a) What has happened to the tree?

It is the month of September. The autumn has set in. The leaves of the tree have turned yellow and its seeds have also fallen.


  1. b) How does the mood change on the arrival of the goldfinch?

The tree which was earlier silent has become active, noisy and full of life, as the goldfinch has come to feed her young ones.


  1. c) There is a comparison of the goldfinch with an animal. Which animal is that?

The goldfinch has been compared to a lizard, sleek and abrupt in its movements.



Then with eerie delicate whistle-chirrup whisperings

She launches away, towards the infinite

And the laburnum subsides to empty.


  1. a) Who has been described in the first line?

The goldfinch has been described in the first line.


  1. b) What impression is created by the description?

The chirruping of the birds is delicate, soft and gentle like whispering. The reference is to the sounds that the bird makes.


  1. c) What effect does the last line create?

The last line shows the contrast between the liveliness of the tree and the silent tree.The tree becomes silent and empty when the bird flies away.



Then sleek as a lizard, and alert and abrupt,

She enters the thickness, and a machine starts up

Of chitterings and a tremor of wings, and trilling

The whole tree trembles and thrills.


  1. a) Who is ‘she’ in the first line? Where does she enter?

‘She’ is the goldfinch and she enters the thickness of the trees.


  1. b) What is the ‘machine’ referred to in line 2?

The ‘machine’ refers to the young ones of the goldfinch. They suddenly start twittering and chirruping as their mother comes to the nest to feed them.


  1. c) Explain the meaning of the last line.

The tree was silent earlier but as the mother goldfinch comes to her nest, there is a lot of noise made by her young ones. The movement and the sounds produced are in contrast to the silence. The tree comes to life now.



The laburnum top is silent, quite still

In the afternoon yellow September sunlight,

A few leaves yellowing, all its seeds fallen.


  1. a)Name the poem and the poet.

The name of the poem is ‘The Laburnum Top’ and the poet is Ted Hughes.


  1. b)Describe the laburnum tree.

The tree is silent and still. It has leaves that are yellowing and seeds have fallen.


  1. c)What is the mood in these lines?

The mood is of peace, calm, quiet and silence. There is absolute stillness and peace.


  1. d)Pick out the words that create the mood.

The words that create the mood are ‘silent’, ‘still’, ‘yellowing leaves’ and ‘fallenseeds’.



It is the engine of her family

She strokes it full, then flirts out to a branch end

Showing her barred face identity mask


  1. a)Why has the word ‘engine’ been used to describe her family?

The word ‘engine’ has been used to describe her family. The engine of the machine starts up and there is noise, movement and energy signifying the excitement at the arrival of mother.


  1. b)Who is ‘she’? How does she stroke the engine?

‘She’ is the goldfinch who has her nest on the top of the laburnum tree. Just as the stoker feeds coal to the engine, the bird feeds her young ones.


  1. c)What does the bird look like?

The face which was earlier hidden in the thickness of the tree’s branches is now revealed as she comes out at the end of the branch. She seems to be wearing a striped mask.


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