Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

After examining the workings of the poem, one can see more fully the significance of the title. The word is not used within the poem, but it frames the whole poem by defining the occasion and suggesting the recovery the speaker makes. Convalescence brings on an unwelcome consciousness that breaks down the barriers of silence and loss. The consciousness of “indrawn breath” overcomes the destructive armor the speaker has built around him. The life force manifests itself as an antidote to the oblivion that was sought.

The poem at first glance seems very simple. There are no difficult words or elaborate figures of speech, and it is only ten lines long. It is, however, a complex poem. The reader must come to terms with all the overtones of “consciousness” and then work out the special way in which “simplicity” is used. Furthermore, there is nothing less than a struggle between the concepts that Cunningham sets against one another. Cunningham is a precise and a rigorous poet. Each word must be carefully considered and weighed before the full meaning of the poem is revealed.

Consciousness is an important theme in the poem. Consciousness is seen as a sudden awareness that comes on the speaker when he is in a feverish condition. People usually associate “consciousness” with a Romantic concentration on the self. This association was resisted both in this poem and in other pieces by Cunningham. He often used mockery in his poems and...

(The entire section is 452 words.)