Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Lines for winter

Lines for Winter

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.
Mark Strand

Mark Strand enjoys employing repetition of phrases in ways that create emphasis or invite varying interpretations with each appearance of a word pattern. As is often the case in Strand’s poetry, the vocabulary and syntax of the sentences seem simple, perhaps disguising their more complex and subtly provocative content. In its first statement, “Tell yourself” may be an offer of friendly advice. However, later utterances of the phrase take on a different sense, perhaps as a command or even a reprimand to the person being addressed. The selected words gather strength and volume with their prominent positions as they are repeated in the poem, and the recurrence of such language excerpts adds to the settling, almost hypnotic, tone developed in the rhythm of the poem despite some unsettling content. Likewise, the echo of “as it gets cold” implies the language could be seen as appealing to readers for separate stages of understanding, not just the physical “cold” of winter, but also the coldness that comes with loss of emotion and possibly death, or at least accompanying the sober recognition of one’s own mortality. Surely, images of winter or night frequently signal acknowledgment of one’s mortality, and the “gray” in line two hints at a common sign of aging. Even the poem’s title, “Lines of Winter,” may be seen as reference to later life’s facial lines, those wrinkles gained through age and experience, particularly for anyone who has endured a history of painful events. Strand also asks readers to associate other repeated phrases with alternative explanations, especially given the clever locations of line breaks.

1 comment:

  1. I love this poem as I do all of his work. . . "I've Been Eating Poetry," "The Man Who Spilled Light." Awesome illustration on this poem.