Original poem reprinted online here: "Paper-White Narcissus" by Lisel Mueller
Originally read: April 17, 2013
More information about the Poet: Lisel Mueller
In the title, the automatic assumption is that there will be a correlation between the Narcissus of legend, and the Narcissus the flower. This is not something new, but there's different approaches to the comparative allegory.
In the first stanza, the speaker notes the comparison with the opening focusing on the myth, "Strange, how they got their name -- / a boy, barely a man, / looked into sunlit water" And with the retelling of the tale, the speaker adds insight to the myth, "that treacherous reflection. There is no greater loneliness," Okay, so the didactic part here is a bit overboard -- maybe to coincide with the tenor of the myth.
But the focus is the reading of the myth -- and the flower. The pronoun "they" and "we" comes into play. The they signifies a more communal tie-in with the myth and flower so that " the darkness of the pebbled pool / we have made for them in a dish" could be for both the myth and the flower. That, indeed, we (as in speaker and audience) encapsulated the image, the myth, the flower to a "risen and broken" examples, that still yet, "show us their faces:"
Note the colon at the end of the second stanza and how this shows that the "faces" will be further defined -- by the speaker.
The last stanza defines the faces in a rather pitiful, sympathetic view, "They are so delicate they invite / protection or violation, / and they are blind." And even past me at this point wrote, "Yes, flowers are blind the connection to both allegories are implied here." I would say further implied here. Like the allegories are beaten over the head and are the main discussion. Where it's kind of ironic in a sense.
The conceit of the poem is that the delicate myth is, "A controlled, cared for and a confined narcissus (plant/metaphor) rising from the darkness." And yet by confining the allegory again in this poem to point out how fragile the usage and the allegory is, doesn't this show the weakness in the poem?