Original poem reprinted online here: "Driving Toward the Lac Qui Parle River" by Robert Bly
Originally read: June 2, 2013
More information about the Poet: Robert Bly
Lac Qui Parle River
What is actual is actual. The poem is split into three sestets which chronicles the journey of the speaker through Minnesota. If I get my geography correct, the speaker is going from Willmar to Milan to Lac Qui Parle River. So the three stanzas sort of represent each individual journey; however, the speaker introduces little snippets of techniques that expands the poem from a simple journey.
The usage of semi-colons in the first line, "I am driving; it is dusk; Minnesota" sets up an offsetting list, or rather, the situation is deliberate enough where the reader has to focus on these three aspects. There is a speaker who is driving. The time frame is dusk. The context of the poem is within Minnesota.
Yet, look at what the speaker notes on this drive, "The stubble field catches the last growth of sun. / The soybeans are breathing on all sides. / Old men are sitting before their house on car seats". Each line plays with the normal and the surreal, and the surreal happens after the action -- "catches the last growth of sun," "breathing on all sides," "sitting before their houses on car seats." The image is what the speaker perceives, the action is what the speaker interprets.
And through his interpretations, "I am happy." Yet, then in the last line, the surreal bits switch so -- after rereading the line -- the awkward action is in the beginning rather than the end, "The moon rising above the turkey sheds." The turkey sheds fit the motif of the images above ("stubble field," "soy beans," "Old men,") -- a kind of rustic interior -- the moon, which is exterior, seems off in the first sestet.
There's a refocus in the first line of the second stanza to to the car, "The small world of the car / Plunges through the deep fields of the night, / On the road from Willmar to Milan.. The over exaggeration of where the car fits adds a sense of the interior -- the car is the small world according to the speaker.
This mindset is further exemplified with further abstractions added to the car, "This solitude covered with iron / moves through the fields of night / Penetrated by the noise of crickets." Esentially, the two sentences mirror each other in description but the intent is skewed a bit.
In the first sentence, there's still a semblance of a visual direction. However, the switch to the auditory breaks the visual and brings in the "noise of crickets" -- a distraction away from the interior to the exterior.
The transition in the third stanza works as exposition, "Nearly to Milan, suddenly a small bridge, / And water kneeling in the moonlight." Note that this is the first usage of a conjunction in the poem which brings together the images of the small bridge and the water. In the previous stanzas, the separation is the focus, here, there's something that merges.
The merge is further punctuated with the reference to "small towns" and the semi-colon in the third stanza, "In small towns the houses are built right on the ground; / The lamplight falls on all fours on the grass." The techniques harken back to the first stanza -- the surreal from the verb, the small town, the semi-colon, as thought to rebuild that distanced happiness that was set up in the first stsanza.
The last two lines, "When I reach the river, the full moon covers it. / A few people are talking, lo, in a boat" seems anti-climactic in the sense of the narrative -- going to one place to another to find something. But the poem is more of a turnaround than forward momentum.
Here the speaker brings in the moon again and goes back to the observer mode where the "turkey sheds," and "A few people are talking, low, in a boat" have a parallel structure. What I see the speaker doing is try to translate that sort of happiness in the serene to the end.
I think what makes this poem is not if it works or not, rather the attempt.