Hoagland, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
  • Date of entry: Dec-27-2001
  • Last revised: Jan-09-2007


Similar in theme to Hoagland's poem, Emigration (see this database), "Arrows" presents us with a series of images that convey what it is to be "a sick person." The poem is divided into three short sections, moving from the generic sick person waking up to face another day, to a first-person parody of Whitman's song of "the body electric" in which the speaker sings "the body like a burnt-out fuse box." Hoagland piles metaphor upon metaphor in a tour de force that evokes sickness. The concluding section, from which the poem takes its name, compares the sick person to a stoic martyred saint--"bristling with arrows"--who has "that ability to say, 'None of this is real' . . . ."


This is an outstanding representation of the bodily experience of being seriously, chronically ill. In addition, the poem presents a paradox: an accompanying mental/spiritual perception of unreality that might sustain such an individual through suffering, but that may also be profoundly disorienting. In its structure, the poem mimics the movement that a chronically sick person makes-- from the daily bodily experience of illness to some sort of emotional/cognitive/spiritual accommodation.

Primary Source

Donkey Gospel



Place Published

St. Paul, Minn.