Original poem reprinted online here: "What the Dead Know" by Robert Polito
Originally read: March 13, 2013
More information about the Poet: Robert Polito
The form of the poem interests me. The poem starts out with a lot of white space and the line center adjusted, the next line left adjusted, and the poem continues to follow this pattern. The pattern adds a sense of duality to the poem (yes, I write this a lot), but the type of duality that follows a pattern.
The first stanza is where I had trouble at first because there's a lot of description, but they all refer to air. Duh, right? But the description of air is very complex because even though the focus should be air, the simile of. "Air here is like the water / Of an aquarium" and so there comes a visual image of air as water which are conflicting images, but work because the description fits both air and water.
For example "appearing cold (and clear) as spring streams / Fed by snow and ice." Furthermore the description for the second part of the simile doesn't end there, but is added onto with more description that can describe, the air, the water, and the last comparative noun. "Heavy as a crystal" --> "as if to move here would mean pushing against a force," --> "As if, put on its slide, every drop is stocked with wonders." Okay, so the last one not so much, but there's the idea that everything is connected through the image, and further development of those images applies to everything before it.
Then the poem turns towards the rhetoric, but this is the important turn in the poem, "Beautiful in a way / One element sustaining another our message brought home." The poem points out the technique. I've noticed this happening a lot in the poems I want to analyze. So I think that pointing out that what is written is a poem does bring a sense of ars poetica, however, in this case the inclusion of "our" in the line shows that the speaker is referring to something or someone else in the process which is "the dead" in this poem.
Here the poem becomes a little sentimental with lines like, "Water without air or to speak of isolation, / or our special loneliness;" however, note the usage of "or" in this stanza. I go back to he "coined" term of the either/or gambit here -- that the most weighted option is usual at the end; however, since all the options are stacked up here, there's a build up of the last option plus any description, idea, or image is amplified because of the rise of expectation -- which option has the most weight? Is it the, "Or as they look right through us," humans taking the attributes of water and air. Or maybe it's ,"Or that with each look / They are swimming to with our sights" the merge of image and persona. Or perhaps the final or, "Or that we are always casting / Wider and wider / And that even now they are fighting to avoid our nets." That the merge between image and persona isn't possible -- or at one side is avoiding the other -- death clear but distant from being persona, but close to be professional.