Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Galvin’s theme is an ancient one. From Ovid’s three ages of humanity, to Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “. . . nor can foot feel, being shod” in “God’s Grandeur,” to Robert Frost’s constant turning from nature’s invitation to “Come In,” poets have struggled with the distances humankind has put between itself and the natural world. Though perhaps just beyond the window, “out there” is worlds away. It is a seductive world that “click[s] like sparks fired/ across a gap,” enticing the reader to enter, to listen to the “message/ tapped on twigs,” to be part of it. Yet people have grown to fear it, ignoring or shunning it. Although it calls with its fog-shrouded voices from water and wood, humans often turn instead to the nature in imagination, the idealized place.

Galvin tells the reader: “I might walk around/ out there until I meet her,/ or scare off the jay.” The speaker might enter the “out there,” where it is uncertain whether he will encounter the significant—“her”—or the insignificant—the “jay” feeding. Rather than take a chance, he decides to “imagine her,” a wet-haired, knitting woman who is domestic and nonthreatening. As with many things humans do not understand, and hence fear, they reduce them to cartoons that no longer threaten them. The woman is, after all, the “spring genius,” that which has the power to pull seasons together, that which clashes hot and cold, moist and dry, to make fog and obscure the world.

“Fog Township” sits comfortably in Galvin’s canon. From his earliest books he played with language with abandon, a maker of myths, fables, and superstitions. He has the ability to bring into the present time old beliefs and make them gleam as if brand new. More than anything, Galvin is a keen observer of the natural world. His poems abound with birds, animals, and fish. He is no lurker behind windows. Galvin is not likely to abandon himself to nature, but his eye falls keenly and honestly on the “out there,” and what he reports back is to be trusted.