Carnival Evening Essay - Critical Essays

Linda Olenic

Carnival Evening

Poet Linda Pastan is concerned with the way things (people, relationships, ambitions) change and fade and often decay. Many of her poems are charged with an urgency about time’s pressure; she persuades her readers, or reminds them, that whoever they are, young or old, youth is past or passing. So everything is to be grasped and valued in its fullness, its splendor, before it can no longer be tasted and appraised; before it is no longer ripening or ripe. Pastan would agree with Wallace Stevens when he announces (in “Sunday Morning”) that “Death is the mother of beauty,” though Pastan’s tropes are less overtly philosophical. If we had eternity, she suggests, we would not have to make choices: everything, endlessly, would come our way. But we don’t have eternity; we must decide what to honor and hold onto.

Not surprising, then, is the nostalgic strand in Pastan’s work, a strand that thickens in her later volumes. As she herself passes through the stations of life, she considers them carefully and remembers those dear to her whom she has now somehow replaced. She voices her roles as homemaker, wife, mother, grandmother, heir to Jewish American traditions and sensibilities. She travels back to a Bronx childhood to find the wellsprings of the sophisticated woman and the accomplished artist. However, the perspective, by and large, is partly on the subject and partly on registering the sense of its being past or its constant passing. Memories glow in their very fading. The poet pulls images and events back from their vanishing acts, but the reader feels the counter-pull of autumn, brilliantly evoked, toward winter and desolation. CARNIVAL EVENING offers fierce delights.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, April, 1998, p. 1295.

Boston Globe. June 10, 1998, p. D3.

Library Journal. CXXIII, April 15, 1998, p. 84.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, March 30, 1998, p. 77.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, April 5, 1998, p. 2.