Geometry by Rita Dove Summary

Introduction

This poem was published in Dove’s first complete book of poems, The Yellow House on the Corner, in 1980. “Geometry” like other poems in the same volume, explores the dynamic between knowledge and imagination. Through an evolving series of increasingly surprising and fantastic dramatic images, the poem takes the reader on a swift and fanciful excursion from indisputable knowledge (“I prove a theorem”) to the realm of imagination. The speaker of the poem seems to be suggesting that the very act of attempting to impose intellectual certainty results in the unleashing of a mysterious, and ultimately wonderful, transformative force. The geometrical “house” immediately “expands” from what is known and certain, and suddenly the speaker is no longer protected, but is “out in the open.” The windows, those framed devices through which the speaker observes the external world, “jerk free” and hinge “into butterflies” in a transformation from rational thought to imagination. The poet seems to be saying that where intellect and imagination “intersect” there is “sunlight,” or enlightenment, and that, in the end, it is the imagination that is “true and unproven.”

Geometry Summary

Line 1
In this first line, Dove sets the stage for the rest of the poem. The speaker asserts indisputable rational knowledge (“I prove a theorem”) and immediately a mysterious force is set in motion (“the house expands”).

Lines 2–3
In these lines, inanimate objects, which are the product of rational thinking, take on living and even human characteristics: “the windows jerk free to hover near the ceiling,” and “the ceiling floats away with a sigh.” This attribution of human characteristics to inanimate objects is known as personification.

Lines 4–6
In these lines, the mysterious force that dismantles everything that is known and certain continues. The walls disappear, “the scent of carnations leaves with them,” and suddenly the speaker is no longer protected: “I am out in the open.” The use of carnations may suggest a celebration of moving from one level of knowledge to another.

Lines 7–9
In the final tercet, the transformation is complete: “above the windows have hinged into butterflies.” Windows, rationally constructed frames of perception, have been transformed into living creatures of the imaginative realm, “sunlight glinting where they’ve intersected.” The poet seems to be suggesting that where rational thought and imagination intersect there is enlightenment. These imaginatively transformed creatures “are going to some point true and...

(The entire section is 209 words.)