Thursday, July 24, 2014

Analysis of "Elegy in the Classroom" by Anne Sexton

Original poem reprinted online here: "Elegy in the Classroom" by Anne Sexton
Originally read: November 19, 2014
More information about the Poet: Anne Sexton


Is this poem about Robert Lowell?  I'm not too sure.  I bring this up because it was the first thing I thought when I read this poem.  Is there any evidence in the poem?  "Gracefully insane" maybe or "find you disarranged" perhaps, nothing too concrete though.

In any case, the speaker is remembering a teacher.  "In the thin classroom, where your face / was noble and your words were all things, / I find this boily creature in your place;"  The phrase that stand out is "boily creature" and I'm not sure what to make of this adjective noun combination.  Is this a negative connotation?  Is this a connotation based more on "boily" or "creature"?  But not the semi-colon there which connects the more mental state with a physical state, "find you disarranged, squatting on the window sill, / irrefutably placed up there, / like a hunk of some big frog."

And even though "frog" could be a negative descriptor, I'm hesitant to state it is.  The frog is based on physical appearance, but also it is observant, "watching us through the V / of your woolen legs."  Physically and mentally messed up, but not offending (but offensive).  And even though these seem like attacks from the speaker, I feel these are light jabs, the elegy style jabs which honestly frames a person rather than attacks out of emotion.

The next stanza solidifies this thought, "Even so, I must admire your skill. / You are so gracefully insane."  I feel the sense of admiration is sincere rather than sarcastic.  Maybe I'm wrong with this assumption because the only thing I have to back it up is that the speaker is still there, still describing the "you" not with reverence but with metaphor.

"We fidget in our plain chairs / and pretend to catalogue / our facts for your burly sorcery"  The deeper the surreal metaphor the more the speaker is entrapped by something -- the image, the memory portrayed, "or ignore your fat blind eyes" note it's a gaze (or lack of it) that can hinge on multiple meanings, physical or mental but note it's the "We" that ignores not the "you".

"or the prince you ate yesterday / who was wise, wise, wise."  What's curious here is the noun phrase after the conjunction which disrupts the list of (negative) verbs.  Here there's a noun that refocuses the line back to things, concepts, not what the "we" does.

So the prince was eaten yesterday who was wise.  Consuming the young wise.  Cause of death?  The surreal image might be too out there to every be concrete, but maybe the image is meant to be that way, just like an elegy -- a bit out of touch.

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