Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Throughout his early work, Ammons employed his observations of nature as a means of conveying his sense of the fragility as well as the fascination of life. The mood of other poems may be depressed, playful, or self-mocking, but in “Corsons Inlet” he expresses a kind of ecstasy at the recognition that life is risky, various, and full. Most important, it is in constant flux. What he sees keeps moving him toward and away from the idea that all this natural activity is planned. He finds paradox in nature (“an order held/ in constant change”); there is terror, but it is not planned. It “pervades but is not arranged.”
For Ammons, even an ordinary walk by the ocean on an overcast day is an experience which informs his view of life and confirms his conviction about what his poetry should be. Moving through the scene he describes, he is not a detached observer but part of the events: Birds fly away when he comes over the crest of a dune, an event which may lead to the birds’ stripping the berries from a different bayberry bush somewhere else. The other creatures cling to life as tenaciously as he does, and they are as certain to find death. This is an unavoidable part of the process and can also be celebrated; “entropy” is a physical law decreeing the eventual death of all systems, but in Ammons’s ecstatic view he can see “a congregation/ rich with entropy.”
The poet can reach conclusions, but they are paradoxical: He will determine only that he will make no final determinations. “I see narrow orders, limited tightness, but will/ not run to that easy victory:/ still around the looser, wider forces work.” “Corsons Inlet” is noteworthy not only because it is a clear and forceful expression of Ammons’s attitude toward life and toward his work, but also because it is a poem in which the different elements all work in the same direction. The images, metaphors, and forms, even the punctuation and the way in which the poem appears on the page, all contribute to the effect. All the elements are employed to a single end, in a coherence which contains the very paradox that is the subject of the poem.