Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Death’s Blue-Eyed Girl” is a poem about loss, and death in the poem is emblematic of all loss. Yet the poem is more than simply another meditation on death. It is also about not losing, about saving what can be saved in this life: the affable indifference of childhood, the pleasure of making, the memory of a defining gesture. The means to this end for the speaker is her art, her poetry.
In this way, “death’s blue-eyed girl” is not only Elaine but the speaker/poet as well. Throughout her life she has moved from one set of images defining death to another and then to yet another. In the end, as an adult in full view of the reality of death, she still refuses to give up, to be defeated by death. Instead, she uses it as a means to create, thus denying its power over her.
The final image of death as a magician serves this purpose well. As long as the poet is able to describe death as she sees fit, she is in control. The playful image of the magician underscores Pastan’s refusal to give in to death’s power. Instead, she reminds the reader again of the child’s ability to invent, and while the poem does not ignore the reality of death (the last line clearly admits this), neither does it deny the importance of invention.
The theme of the poem is echoed in the epigraph to Aspects of Eve, the collection in which it appears. Taken from “Eve’s Exile” by Archibald MacLeish, the epigraph reads: “Space within its time revolves/ But Eve must spin as Adam delves/ Because our exile is ourselves.” Locked in one’s own existence, without hope of paradise, one must labor to make sense of the world. That is exactly what the speaker in “Death’s Blue-Eyed Girl” is doing.
The final message of the poem is that the creative urge, however it reveals itself, is one’s best “safety net” against the fearful reality of one’s own mortality. By employing one’s creative faculties in ways that confirm life, one also becomes a magician; there is little else one can hope to have to offer comfort.