Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

On one level, “To Go to Lvov” seems intended to call up a childhood home that is now lost to the speaker. Although it is cast in the form of directions for going to Lvov, the speaker’s uncertainty about whether Lvov even exists, along with the dreamlike refrain that asserts the wealth of the city (“too much of Lvov”), seems more intended to invite the reader into the dream than to instruct the reader about going to a real place. The illogicality of dreams allows the speaker to assert things that do not make sense on the literal level. Thus he can say “joy hovered/ everywhere, in hallways and in coffee mills/in blue/ teapots, in starch.” The surreal sense of dreams is particularly active as the poem moves toward its end. The scissors and other sharp implements (penknives and razor blades) that first cut away “too much of Lvov” next seem to cut the very inhabitants away from each other as surely as death.

In line 76, as the speaker pictures Lvov’s people saying good-bye to each other, the separation asserts that it is indeed death that does the cutting: “I won’t see you anymore, so much death/ awaits you.” That death may refer to Lvov’s troubled political history, but in a more general way it can easily refer to any childhood home and the deaths of family and friends that inevitably occur as the years pass, separating the one who was once a child in the place from the people and events of childhood. Line 78 links Lvov to...

(The entire section is 456 words.)