Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Bypassing Rue Descartes” is a deceptively complex poem. Among its considerations are exile, the mutability of power through time, and guilt. The poem’s journey is in many ways a searching back to reach a personal moment of guilt, an original but personal sin that has resulted in what amounts to a life of punishment and purgation through the condition of exile. That everyone has committed transgressions against life, that everyone is guilty of destruction, is the human condition and not one borne of a strictly religious sensibility. Insofar as everyone is guilty of transgression, everyone lives in a condition of exile.
“Bypassing Rue Descartes” implicitly asks: For what do we live? It does not ask the question of dogma—how do we live?—but the question of choices, responses, and responsibilities. The poem offers many dichotomies: civilized-barbarian, abstraction-sensuousness, metaphysical-tangible, empire-local, universal-specific, and death-life. It traces the poet’s movement from desiring the universal to understanding it as part of the complex of empire, dogmatic politics, abstraction, and finally the force of death—the same force that has driven him into exile.
The poem insists on life: the sensuous particularity of life as illustrated by the catalogs of the provincial customs and the details of the street market as well as the symbolic value of the water snake as a sign of generative forces. The emphasis on the fully...
(The entire section is 393 words.)
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