Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“Edge” is dated February 5, 1963; a week after it was written, the poet was dead. It is possible to consider the poem a suicide note. The often-anthologized poem is not only a statement that the writer will commit suicide; it also contains subtle suggestions about the relationship between art and life and death.
“Edge” is a free-verse poem that maintains a formal appearance through its use of twenty paired lines. “The woman is perfected,” begins its description of the dead woman. The reader is reminded of the “perfection” in the early poem “Medallion,” in which the snake is translated by death into art: “The yardman’s/ Flung brick perfected his laugh.” The dead woman of “Edge,” too, is a sort of artifact; endowed with the paraphernalia of tragedy, she has transcended life and become something else:
The illusion of a Greek necessityFlows in the scrolls of her toga,Her bareFeet seem to be saying:We have come so far, it is over.
The dead children are there with her: “Each dead child coiled, a white serpent.” Death is the work of art she has made of her life. Yet the poem represents a splitting of consciousness. The moon, her muse, seems to be a symbol of mind that is detached from the individual self, and the moon “has nothing to be sad about.” The poem seems to see the individual life as realized through death and turned into art through death. Yet the moon, symbol of inspiration (and of the female mind), continues to shine.
Nevertheless, although the poem may suggest some kind of immortality or transcendence through its personified moon, the image that remains with the reader from this final poem is of a deathlike stillness.