Circulations of the Song Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Circulations of the Song” is a poem about love and about the frustrations of expressing the depth of that love fully. However, Duncan also wants to explore the connections between human and divine love. Throughout his writing life, he used the word “beloved” to embody the range and intensity of the love he held for Jess Collins. Duncan finally found an adequate model in the ecstatic utterances of Jalal al-Din Rumi, the founder of the Whirling Dervishes. Rumi was forced to create these modes of ecstatic expression so that he could articulate the sensuous and spiritual intensity of his devotion to his lover. The use of the ode and the dithyrambic verse form allowed Duncan to imitate and, at the same time, pay homage to one of his great poetic idols, Rumi, a fellow homosexual and practitioner of ecstatic passion. Duncan also revered the Greek god of the dance and sensuality, Dionysus, who combined human and divine rapture.

A devoted and proud romantic all his life, Duncan found Rumi’s poetic models a perfect vehicle for expressing his own antirationalistic position and for celebrating feeling as the key to unlocking the power of the imagination to transform the fallen world into a bower of bliss. Only by “falling in love,” or surrendering the self to the fires of passional love, can human beings attain higher knowledge and experience the profundity of love. Duncan’s poem participates in the identical process that Rumi delineated in his odes. He called his poem “Circulations of the Song” because the quest for the beloved circulates throughout the history of poetry and has circulated from ancient Greece down to the present day. The heart was one of Duncan’s principal poetic figures, and he used it both metaphorically and literally; the circulation system exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide to sustain life itself. Duncan frequently used objects which serve on both literal and metaphoric levels.