Saturday, July 5, 2014

Analysis of "Violet Swords" by Stephen Sturgeon

Original poem reprinted online here: "Violet Swords" by Stephen Sturgeon
Originally read: July 5, 2014
More information about the Poet: Stephen Sturgeon



Here's the story.  I took a nap and now I can't go to sleep.  I go to /r/poetry and I see this thread asking for help interpreting a poem.  A lot of the times I ignore these posts, but then I click on the link because I'm bored.

Someone needs help interpreting the poem "Violet Swords" which appears in the June 2014 edition of Poetry.  I was just going to write a single sentence, and then, welp, entire analysis.

I don't want the analysis to go to waste, so I'm posting my analysis here:

I think everything hinges on contrasts.

But first the form. The poem is written in alternating ababcdcd rhyme scheme which feigns a sort of connection; furthermore, the poem has very loose syllabics ranging from 9 to 11, but the twenty line poem is constantly in this range. Why? Well I think the form shows an attempt at focus.

Focus from what though? To me, there's the attempt to reign in contrasts. Note that the use of gloves, a more innocuous action, contrasting the violent action of "conquering Dubrovnik"

But the speaker undercuts this idea with, "of, no one would care how, evading Hell." The key to the first three lines to me is the semi-colon which connects the contrasting concepts with the end goal of evasion.

And this poem definitely evades. The repetition of "C" and "T" with "Christmas turkeys; circulating trophies;" and the "pedestal stacked upon pedestal" doesn't equate to much, but there's a sense of build up based around the language which is, again, undercut with "silence has come to see what no one sees," no one sees, no one cares.

However, with each part of negating the audience, the speaker places himself as the observer, "the silence" in which can state snide remarks like, "Fellows, who wait à propos their intros / clawing at the panels, such shrill tigers, / thrive unthreading the hems of the heroes." Pointed futility at "everyone else" who are too busy clawing and unthreading or "Friends of our late friend are minor-leaguers" casting judgement on friends of friends. Yes, the speaker can say this, but keep in mind the speaker knows that no one sees, no one cares from big instances to these petty ones.

So when the reintroduction of the "she" comes in, there is an attack on "you": "... She wipes / away red records of the stocks you stole ... " Note the (over)usage is far different than anything, syntactically, used in the poem. This could mean something more, but to me this is the core issue the speaker has. Contrast the observer who has much to observe, but what, in actuality happens. Also note the color shift of red seems important because the color could be for violence (red indicating blood and such) or actual stocks (red indicating a fall).

Now the big undercut is the final contrasting image at the end:

     Yesterday, books were thrown from the third floor,
     out the window, they sank in pairs like shoes,
     and I watch violet swords on a white shore,
     blade-tip laid across blade-tip, where it snows.

Two actions of "yesterday" which informs the speaker of "today." One, the throwing out of books which the speaker see as coupled. The use of the simile "like shoes" indicate a lack of movement on one end -- this is more of an idealized situation. The words not moving.

Two, the violet swords on the white sands -- a bigger (forced) metaphoric contrast based on color and location "where it snows" -- note again the coupling effect "blade-tip laid across blade-tip" similar to the rhyme scheme and the repetition earlier on which the speaker comes to the conclusion that no one sees and no one cares -- on various different levels (epic to petty) no matter how close the images, rhetoric, or ideas appear to be.


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