Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

With its focus on useless accumulation, whether of the divine or the mundane, and what that hoarding of the broken and disintegrating has to say about and to humankind, “Guide to the Other Gallery” is reminiscent of several of Gioia’s other poems, most notably “Counting the Children.” Both collected in The Gods of Winter, dedicated to the memory of Gioia’s young son, these poems emphasize the ravages that time inflicts on everyone and everything. They also highlight the inability of humans to let go of objects, perhaps even ideas or their own bodies, in the face of the loss of their function and purpose. There is also a central paradox here in that these objects, which are now relentlessly held onto, were previously discarded by someone else. The place in which they now reside is a kind of netherworld, which conveys other, even more archetypal, associations to the poem.

The descent into the underworld—this poem admittedly presents a glimpse of and not a descent into the abyss—is an integral part of epics. Having no pretensions of being an epic—indeed the “you” of the poem comes across more as an Everyman than a heroic figure—this poem nonetheless borrows from that tradition.

Although these conventions hail from at least as far back as the Greek and Roman periods, Gioia’s poem, appropriately for the work of a poet known for his translations of Italian poetry, is perhaps most evocative of Dante’s Inferno from La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy, 1802).That allusion to Dante is perhaps nowhere clearer than in the guide who brings to mind Vergil conducting Dante through the Inferno; in this case the guide does not...

(The entire section is 699 words.)