Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Analysis of "A Person Protests to Fate" by Jane Hirshfield

Poem Found Here: "A Person Protests to Fate" by Jane Hirshfield



This poem has a very didactic/koanic feel about it. The flow of the poem is very straightforward: the exposition, the insight to extremes then to "the long middle,"   but the very last sentence of the poem confuses me, but not like a koan, but grammatically.

First, the general person asking a large statement:

     A person protests to fate:

     "The things you have caused
     me most to want
     are those that furthest elude me."

Very straightforward and telegraphed.  The protest is clear of not getting what they want the person wants.  This statement will be the core of the poem since "Fate" responds "Fate nods. / Fate is sympathetic."

Then there's a situation showing want:

     To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
     are triumphs
     for only the very young,
     the very old

Note two things -- yes, these lines are easily comprehended, but note the tone of the speaker crafting a slyness with the drop down line of concepts (young and old); furthermore, how the speaker talks about shoe tying and shirt buttoning as triumphs -- or rather places hyperbolic judgement on simple tasks -- extremes.

But "During the long middle":

     conjugating a rivet
     mastering tango
     training a cat to stay off the table
     preserving a single moment longer than this one
     continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before

Everything in "the long middle" starts off with an action.  The most confusing first, "conjugating a rivet" which has no physical tangibility to the exciting for the mundane "mastering tango" to the mundane "training the cat to stay off the table." and ends with the sentimental, "preserving a single moment longer than this one / continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before" kind of like self-help sayings being explained out.

And in this momentum ends with confusion, "and the penmanships love practices inside the body"  syntactically this doesn't make sense.  Is penmanships the direct noun? Does this mean there's an anthropomorphized concept here that "loves" the actions of "practices inside the body."  What practices?  Redoing what?

If the assumption is the redoing of the last two things on the list above, then the poem has become overly sentimental to me.  However, if the line is meant to be by itself, it doesn't make sense to me.

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