National Poetry Month: Day 7

death is innocent

death is innocent; he creeps up
in the midst of suffering
or leaps to us in a sudden bang,
but he does nothing more
than take our hands and tug us
from the rumpus of living into
the cold quiet negation;
he has not the malice
of his lively relations.

— Delilah Des Anges


A great deal can be conveyed in poetry with the use of allusion and the careful choosing of words. This concerted effort toward a certain beautiful precision may well have been what Coleridge was getting at when he wrote “poetry: the best words in the best order” (as opposed to his definition of prose, which was “words in their best order”). The use of allusion, visual metaphor, association, and “the best words in the best order” is illustrated perfectly with David Thewlis’s poem Rain:

And,
After the rain,
Our umbrella
Becomes a cane,
And, “Whatever will become of us?”
Becomes “…became.”

It uses a simple rhyme scheme (abcbdb) and the structure is that of a brief crescendo. What is beguiling about the poem is the way in which the simple rhyme scheme’s requirements lead to a poem of allusion and minimalist word choice: Thewlis packs into the closing couplet a world of expression.

“Whatever will become of us?” // Becomes “… became” suggests, in partnership with the reference of the rain (strife, a passing trouble, something from which two people need to take shelter), the passing of the brief connection along with the trouble; it is a relationship which could not weather a storm, or which weathered a storm but could not cope with the sunlight afterwards. This meaning is presented in the terminal word with a finality which could not be applied to it in prose: “became” is usually transitive.

But because of the pre-conceived idea of the dismantling of the umbrella, and the expectations created by the rhyme scheme, and the “become” in the line before begging for a mirror, “became” is an answer, a satisfying echo, a conclusion.


Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF.

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