Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Analysis of "How I Understand Eternity' by Brian Swann

Original poem reprinted online here: "How I Understand Eternity' by Brian Swann
Originally read: September 26, 2013
More information about the Poet: Brian Swann


Even though the first line is a statement, the line brings up an rhetorical question, "Organisms evolved colors before / there were eyes to see them." The question the reader imposes on this line is, "why?"  But the thing about this poem is how the poem evolves.  Don't be tricked by the change in the first line.

"I take a look before floating / to the Cretaceous where colors / are now butterflies and beetles."  Not a redefinition, a shift of colors take shape into actual specific animals -- butterflies and beetles.  Two things of note, the introduction of the "I" speaker comes in as an observer, and the adjusted lines structure the evolution of the poem.

"shaping themselves to flowers / of sassafras and magnolia."  Now the poem goes into a stream-of-consciousness mode in which transforms the colors from insects to flowers to another secent.

"Their / scents fill my mind while night / starts to warp round me"  A part of me feels these lines take away from the play earlier -- the enforcement of the speaker in the sublime.  The description of the sensation seems mediocre compared by the previous descriptive play, but the image turns to allusion with, "and a / rabbit in the doorway pauses / by a half-eaten apple."

Yes, there could be an allusion to two different fairy tales: Alice in Wonderland (rabbit -- through the doorway), and Sleeping Beauty (half-eaten apple).  Is it a stretch for me to make these connections?  Perhaps.  But the poem at this moment is open to interpretation because the images and the ideas shift (more or less) fluidly.

"I watch / the lamplight's clear pool / on the ancient pinewood planks"  Note how the shift is on the speaker and then is decentralized to the lamplight.  The observation is the I, the possession is the lamplight.  And what is "clear pool"?  Light, maybe.  Or perhaps structure.

          fall through cracks and knotholes
     onto the lives of mice as starlight
          filters through the window
     and falls on me.

Yes, a pretty image.  But note that this "pool" descends and transforms into two different purposes.  To mice, the pool is starlight (I know the as is there).  The ability to comprehend shifts.  As majestic as "Starlight" sounds, it's just light to mice; however, filtered through a window, this light also falls on the speaker in which throughout the poem doesn't place meaning behind the light, rather places experience -- the expansion of perception.

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