Showing 511 - 520 of 717 Poetry annotations

Three Women

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: May-31-1999
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This is a long poem, subtitled "A Poem for Three Voices," and originally written for radio broadcast. It consists of three intertwining interior monologues, contextualized by a dramatic setting: "A Maternity Ward and round about." The three women of the title are patients, and each describes a different experience.

The First Voice is a (presumably) married woman who gives birth and takes her baby home during the course of the poem. The Second, a secretary, has a miscarriage, not her first, and the Third, a college student, gives birth after an unwanted pregnancy, and gives the baby up for adoption.

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Chekhov on Sakhalin

Heaney, Seamus

Last Updated: May-11-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The 30 year old Anton Chekhov, determined to pay his "debt to medicine," sets off from civilized Russia to investigate the prison colonies on Sakhalin Island, off the east coast of Siberia. (See Chekhov's A Journey to Sakhalin, annotated in this database.) In the poem Chekhov stands at the rail of a steamer on Lake Baikal and downs a jigger of cognac, then smashes the glass on the rocks. "In the months to come / It rang on like the burden of his freedom / To try for the right tone--not tract, not thesis--"

In his attempt "to squeeze / His slave's blood out" (Chekhov was the grandson of serfs), he spent the next several months feverishly documenting the conditions on Sakhalin. Subsequently, he spent several years trying to express his experience in writing.

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Fever

Hughes, Ted

Last Updated: May-11-1999
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem is one in a series written by Ted Hughes, addressing his wife, the American poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963. Here, the speaker recalls a time when he and his wife were living in Spain, and she became ill: "You lay helpless and a little bit crazy / With the fever." For Plath, the illness seems intolerable. She whispers, "Help me" to her husband, "crie[s] out for America," and sobs "I am going to die." He takes care of her, feeling as if he is "a nursemaid" or "suddenly mother." He cooks soup and spoon feeds her.

What worries him, though, is her reaction to being ill. He wonders whether she's exaggerating, and fears that if she treats a fever as if it were "the most impossible / Of all horrible things," then how will she be "when things get really bad"? He feels himself withdraw his sympathy for her, but then he recognizes what he calls "the overload"--a bluntedness which he likens to "the callous / That eases overwhelmed doctors."

The end of the poem is ambiguous: both he and his wife are overloaded; where her response is (hyper?) sensitivity, his is anesthesia. He continues to feed her the soup. (67 lines)

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The Tender Place

Hughes, Ted

Last Updated: May-11-1999
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem is one in a series written by Ted Hughes, addressing his wife, Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963. After her first suicide attempt, and before she met Hughes, Plath was given electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for depression (see Plath's novel The Bell Jar for her own description of this). In this poem, Hughes contemplates the mechanics and symbolism of what seems so brutal and elemental a treatment.

He focuses on the fragility and beauty of her body--"Your temples, where the hair crowded in, / Were the tender place"--and then makes us imagine the effect of electrodes there, in ever more shocking images: "They crashed / The thunderbolt into your skull," "They dropped you / A rigid bit of bent wire / Across the Boston City grid." He then suggests that there is a link between this treatment and the kind of poet she became: her "voice" was scarred and "over-exposed / Like an x-ray," and when her words returned they were distorted and vulnerable, "Faces reversed from the light / Holding in their entrails." (38 lines)

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Rhymes of a Red Cross Man

Service, Robert

Last Updated: Mar-14-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This is a collection of poems based on Robert Service’s experience as a Red Cross ambulance driver in France during World War I. The book begins with the patriotic call to war: "High and low, all must go: / Hark to the shout of War!" Some of the volunteers never come back (e.g. "The Fool," "Our Hero," and "My Mate"). Others are severely wounded (e.g. "The Convalescent" and "Wounded").

Many of the narrators express their love of home, family, and especially their fellow soldiers (e.g. "The Man From Athabaska," "Carry On," and "Bill the Bomber"). Only a small number of these poems evoke specifically Red Cross work. One of these is "The Odyssey of ’Erbert ’Iggins," in which two medics carry the wounded from the battlefield. Another is "The Stretcher Bearer," in which the narrator is unable to clean a blood stain from his stretcher and wonders, "if in ’Eaven’s height, / Our God don’t turn away ’Is Face."

Throughout the collection there is evidence of ambivalence toward the individual German soldier. In some moments he is "Only a Boche" (or Hun) who has killed the soldier’s buddies, but in other moments the narrators reflect that their opponents are also ordinary men, sons and fathers, who love their families.

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Exit

Abse, Dannie

Last Updated: Feb-19-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poet stands by the bed of his afflicted mother "as my colleague prepares the syringe." His mother's right hand is still moving, but her left hand is "suspiciously still." He thinks of Death's "random, katabolic ways: / merciful sometimes, precise, but often / wild as delirium."

Various images of suffering rise in his mind--a botched suicide, a victim of war, David and Bathsheba, out of whose suffering came forth "the wise child, the Solomon." But, he asks, "what will spring from this / unredeemed, needless degradation, / this concentration camp for one?" The colleague injects the medication, while Death victoriously holds the poet's mother's left hand and "I continue uselessly / to hold the other."

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Emigration

Hoagland, Tony

Last Updated: Jan-26-1999
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrator describes his chronic illness of two or more years duration. He likens his former good health to "an island / going out of sight behind you." His days are filled with visits to the doctor, medicine, and a loss of interest in "wanting to make love . . . . " He describes going through stages: feelings of being punished, which generate "an enormous effort to be good"; anger; fear of death; "a lake of grief"; "neurotic vigilance"; and finally, "only a desire to be done." In the end, he is still en route.

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Visiting Hours Are Over

Bloch, Chana

Last Updated: Jan-26-1999
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This 22-line poem lacking any punctuation is a breathless narration of an urgent need to escape from the hospital environment. The narrator runs past the bodies "crumpled on every bed" and "the lead apron / of hospital drapes" to emerge outside into the rain. She is immensely relieved to experience the cold wetness of the rain and to feel the pavement against her feet as she runs to her car.

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Sojourn at Elmhurst

Lieberman, Michael

Last Updated: Jan-26-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

This book is a sequence of poems about Frank Goldin, a middle-aged biochemist who is admitted to a mental hospital, Elmhurst, with the chief complaint, "I hear a thousand voices and must respond to each." In the first poem Goldin confesses his sins, but simple confession doesn't get to the root of his dilemma, the existential ambiguity that plagues him.

During Goldin's dark night of the soul, his scientific self struggles with the mysterious longing within. Dr. Hudspeth, the Elmhurst psychiatrist, directs his support to the part of Goldin that says, "I am the restless biochemical cycle / that pours out glutathione in buckets." In essence, just straighten out the chemicals and you'll get better.

Throughout the book Goldin waits for his wife Helen to visit Elmhurst, but she never appears. He ruminates over the matter of confessing that he had an affair with a woman named Da-ling during a professional meeting in Osaka. If he confesses, if Helen comes, Goldin hopes that things will return to the way the way they used to be.

However, the mysterious side of Goldin is looking for something else. He has visions of the ancient Rabbi Yehuda of Smyrna, who asks, "Why do we not even know how to ask a question properly?" After several weeks Goldin leaves Elmhurst with the feeling that he has made progress, but not in any discernible direction. Goldin concludes that he should be grateful, but he asks, "to whom?"

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Barium

Kirchwey, Karl

Last Updated: Jan-26-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem describes the ineffable experience of

having a barium enema to answer the question, "has time betrayed you yet?" While it is summer outside, inside the room "numbers flee across / banked screens." The narrator tries not to be there, but he is. Soon he will "pass a gallon, / more or less, of latex enamel, / as blooms of cramp go on and on." He sees the barium as it moves through the compartments of his large intestine, and he reflects that "life is so common"--but not his life.

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