Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The notes Amy Clampitt appended to “The Kingfisher” are probably the best starting point for a discussion of the poem’s themes. On the face of it, her comparison of the work to a novel, episodic in form, and her mention of a “piece of cloisonné” would appear to be at odds, for one implies narrative movement, the other a static form. (Cloisonné is a technique for applying enamel to metal, as for jewelry.) However, while the poem is organized chronologically, the love affair itself does not go anywhere. As the persona points out in the sixth stanza, every meeting had the same pattern. However well it began, each encounter went wrong. Thus the love affair and the poem describing it are both more like cloisonné, with its repetition of colors and forms, than like a narrative that moves to a conclusion.

In the notes, Clampitt also amplifies her parenthetical comment on the poet Dylan Thomas, thus stressing one of the themes that is repeated in each of the episodes, that of destruction, decay, and death. For example, the lovers walk near a convent that is in ruins and later meet in a cemetery. The male lover makes a “wreck” of Stravinsky’s music and of the evening. Later, he is said to have “mourned” as one would a death, evidently over the loss of “poetry” and because he sees himself aging. The death of Thomas, which is mentioned parenthetically, occurred the same week and in the same city as the lovers’ Sunday morning meeting. His...

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