Reading Poetry Final Exam

Instructions 

Choose two of the poems below. Write an analytical essay on each poem you’ve selected.  (In other words, write two separate essays; this is  not compare and contrast.) You may examine whichever elements of the poem strike you, though of course certain poems will lend themselves to certain examinations-e.g., rhyme and rhythm, paradox and ambiguity, imagery, narrative, tone, irony, historical context, etc.

As we’ve discussed throughout the semester, it may be useful to consider any  “turns” in the poems though you don’t necessarily have to label them emblematic, concessional, retrospective-prospective, etc.

Good luck!

 

Essays

 

Jane Springer 

 

Dear Blackbird,

 

Last night I drank to the measureless arc of you—your body’s black

rivermark over the levy.

 

If there was a sound at all in the night then it was as the dog’s fencehowl

splintered off from a chorus of running loose hounds.

 

If there was a thought it was the brittle dry husk of a thought’s discontent

at containment & of its leaning toward a new frost.

 

If there is a motion I’ve memorized its slight idiosyncrasies: The glitch in

the loop of the root underfoot—

 

rain leaving one swath of light to mark the way of your flight through

this field.

 

Toward what heaven or abyss do you go—lead by the dry inkwell of one

blighted eye, the good one stocked with such stolen grain.

 

What your wings know—eclipsing them both. Your wings, eclipsing the

moon.

 

I do not say that I wished to go with you—

I do not say that I wished to go with you—

 

Truly as was & as

ever will be

yours—

Scarecrow 

 

Beginning with the line “Last night I drank to the measureless arc of you- your body’s black / rivermark over the levy,” the poem creates a theme of subservience between the scarecrow and the blackbird. The dominant figure, the Scarecrow, is honoring the Blackbird, the submissive figure, through celebratory drink. As indicated by the use of the past tense, the poem is perhaps leading readers to believe that, in this instance, this drinking ceremony is a farewell intended to commemorate one of the blackbird’s incredible features: its “measureless arc.” More specifically, as indicated by the hyphen in the segment “…to the measureless arc of you- your body’s black rivermark over the levy,” the Scarecrow more drinks to the Blackbird’s “rivermark over the levy,” which is important because by comparing it to the river’s jet black water stains upon the levy’s concrete, it presumably refers the permanence of bird’s flat form during flight. Additionally, the tension created by the blackbird’s perching on the scarecrow, and by the scarecrow’s seemingly inappropriate reaction of writing an appreciative, reflective letter for the scarecrow, calls attention to the nature of the Blackbird and Scarecrow’s relationship. In this manner, the poem revisits the theme of reversed roles: the subjugator’s submittal to the subjugated.

Moving forward in the poem, the third, fourth and fifth stanzas, strictly adhering to the repetition of “if,” appear to state that there if there is an “if,” there must be a “then” to follow. In this instance, the following “then,” would make most logical sense if it were to speak upon the Scarecrow’s unwavering silence and stillness (as such is the nature of the Scarecrow), which it does by building off of the given fact that because the Scarecrow’s time is spent primarily in the present, standing silently, the sentient Scarecrow is quite attentive to its surroundings. As such, the line supports the Scarecrow’s attentiveness: “if there’s a motion I’ve memorized its slight idiosyncrasies. The glitch in / the loop of the root underfoot-ˮ This states that because of the amount of stillness that the Scarecrow sits through, even the slightest disturbance is closely scrutinized. Continuing to build off upon the theme of stillness, the poem contrasts the Scarecrow’s permanent stillness with the Blackbird’s ability to take flight, placing flight in a very positive, and freeing light. “Toward what heaven or abyss do you go- lead by the dry inkwell of one / blighted eye, the good one stocked with such stolen grain.” In this line, the poem demonstrates how in regards to both the Scarecrow and the Blackbird, the direction of flight is irrelevant. For the Blackbird, its flight is only lead by one eye’s thirst for sustenance (an empty inkwell serves no purpose, if it were animate, it would want to be filled) and the other’s, referring to its mind’s eye, unquenchable avarice. For the Scarecrow, it is the simple act of flying that matters most, as reflected through the placement of the “or” in the phrase “heaven or abyss.” The speaker, the scarecrow, simply wishes to be uprooted from his place and take flight, regardless of heading in a “good” (heaven) or “bad” (abyss) direction. The Scarecrow’s wanderlust is supported by admiring way it speaks of the Blackbird’s ability to dominate the cosmic overlords. “What your wings know- eclipsing them both. Your wings, eclipsing the / moon.” Here, the scarecrow observes the Blackbird’s ability to change its state of being at any moment allows it to trump the constantly looming sun and moon. Through the couplet, “I do not say that I wished to go with you- / I do not say that I wished to go with you-ˮ the Scarecrow states its burning desire to join the Blackbird in flight. A repeated line follows the first dash, then the second dash is followed by nothing, forcing one to question what the Scarecrow truly wishes to say. It’s as if the scarecrow isn’t done speaking, as if it’s next sentence will be, “Please, oh Blackbird, take me with you.”

Lastly, the poem’s final stanza, the closing remarks of the letter, evokes the same feelings as the couplet does. “Truly as was & as / ever will be / yours – ˮ Again, the Scarecrow relies on the dash “to speak without speaking,” the monolithic “yours- ˮ screaming to be examined, as if the scarecrow sincerely wishes its statement to be true, but recognizes that nothing is eternal, recognizing that one day the Blackbird will perish, and its ability to fly will no longer enable it to flee from the unchanging rising and setting of the sun and moon.

 

 

Craig Morgan Teicher 

 

A Cure for Dead Dogs

… as if weather were a cure for childhood.

—Bin Ramke

 

As if time were a cure. As if all things

pass, this too shall pass were a cure

for time, the time it takes, time enough,

 

a little more time. As if waking

with a taste in your mouth

were a cure for childhood, a sweaty

 

sweaty dream, a monster, an

angel in the closet, under the bed

were a cure for a ghost. As if

 

a thing lost or forgotten, discarded,

fled, written down and revised, revisited

were a cure for dead dogs, dogs

 

put to sleep, put down, put out of mind,

put that way were a cure for the facts.

 

As if this were a cure for that.

 

As if what happened, events as told, as tell

about the teller were a cure for

what ails, what finally ends, what time

 

has taken its toll on. As if what can be

hoped for, what works, what heals

were a cure. As if a cure were needed.

 

Through the poem’s title “A Cure for Dead Dogs /… as if weather were a cure for childhood. -Bin Ramke,” the speaker foreshadows the importance of “as if.” In the poem, the speaker uses “as if” to set and keep a negative tone, as indicated by the first line “As if time were a cure.” Immediately, the poem doubts one of life’s oldest and most tried panaceas: time as a healer. This use of “as if” creates an unshakably negative voice that continues up until the very last bit of punctuation.

Now, because of the speaker’s use of enjambment, the negative tone regarding the idea of time as a cure has translated into spoiling “all things;” referring to life. The phrase continues, though, stating, “As if all things/ pass, this too shall pass were a cure.” Interestingly enough “this too shall pass” is used as a noun class, and then referred to in the past tense, thus matching the same syntax as the line preceding it. The structure is as follows: first, “As if,” then followed by a noun, or noun clause, then the verb “were,” ended with “cure.” The unity of these line’s structure, paired with the internal rhyme of “were” and “cure”, suggests that the speaker intends for readers to view “time” in the same conceptual frame of reference with “all things pass, then this too shall pass…” In uniting these through structure, the poem allows “all things…” to become a new definition, a new interpretation, for the concept of “time.” Holistically, whole sentence serves to elaborate on what time is, or how the poem wishes us to perceive it. “As if all things / pass, this too shall pass were a cure/ for time, the time it takes, time enough…” In this sense, “time” and what the saying “time heals all” means, hold zero weight. Most important, however, is that through the use of “as if,” the poem rejects the presuppositions of the concept of time as an enabler of recovery. Furthermore, each “as if” clause serves to assist the reader in creating a new supposition of what happens when “time” is relied upon as a healing factor.

Throughout the piece, the “as if” phrase harks back to the poem’s main concept of doubting time as a legitimate cure for loss. Because of the sheer repetition of this “as if” phrase, the original theme remains well within reach the piece progresses. As such, the syntax of each “as if” phrase becomes incredibly important in getting to the heart of the poem. The structural makeup of the phrase (“as if [blank] were a cure for [blank]”) remains unchanged, despite the varying concepts it calls into question. For example, the lines “As if [waking with a taste in your mouth] were a cure [for childhood]…” and, “As if [a thing lost, forgotten, discarded, / fled, written down and revised, revisited] were a cure [for dead dogs,]…” although stating two completely separate scenarios, in essence state the same thing, varying only slightly. The “as if” phrases then come to a point, literally, as the speaker makes his original intentions for this structural choice more clear in the poem’s solo-standing turn, “As if [this] were a cure  [for that].” Here, the reader is shown that what comes in between the brackets, the cure and the problem, do not matter anyway because a cure was never needed to begin with, as marked by the use of “this” and “that,” both vague, relative pronouns.  Furthermore, it goes so far as to state that the things that define a cure, “…what can be hoped for, what works, what heals,” aren’t even fit themselves to be considered cures.

The final “as if” statement (“As if a cure were needed.”) appears to be scoffing at the idea of even trying to comprehend or imagine a cure in the first place which, then, brings the reader back full circle to the title, specifically, its subtitle: “…as if weather were a cure for childhood…” How could weather possibly be a cure for childhood? It can’t. The two have nothing in common, and therefore, cannot share the symbiotic relationship that Cure and Problem are bound by, which is the exact point the poem is attempting to make. They can’t be connected, and therefore, aren’t important. In regards to consoling the death of a dog, the cure and problem, were never cures and problems to begin with. Look then, toward the poem’s most important segment: the stanza and couplet before the turn. “As if a thing lost or forgotten, discarded, / fled, written down and revised, revisited.” In other words, the speaker recognizes that a poem, rather, this poem, holds the potential to be a cure for the dogs who are “put to sleep, put down, put out of mind, / put that way,” but is not the cure

The poem’s main, and final point is tucked away in the section “dogs, / [put to sleep, put down, put out of mind, put that way] were a cure [for the facts].” and again, fittingly, is marked by syntax, or, in this case, the lack of syntax. This segment is the only part of the poem unmodified by the “as if” statement’s structure. Therefore the speaker intends for this section to be read independently from the rest of the poem. Here, the “as if” tone, the negative rain cloud that has been plaguing the piece, has been lifted for the first time. Here, the poem finally states something solid, something concrete. The poem has appeared to find a legitimate problem and cure. The poem states that dogs were both the cure, and the problem, all along, which allows the last “as if” phrase, “As if a cure were needed [,]” to make sense. Basically, a cure was never needed, because the cure has always been right in front of the reader- or speaker’s nose, stated in plain, comparatively unstructured sentence. The answer has been there, on the page, the whole time. In conclusion, through its structure, the poem delivers a beautiful and touching elegy “as if” to state what matters in the end, is dog, and nothing else.

 

 

 

 

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