Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“Losing the Marbles” is a seven-part poem meditating on the various aspects of old age, especially as they relate to poetry. Section 1 is written in the manner of a romantic meditation, indicating the impetus for the poem. The poet has lost his date-calendar and cannot remember what he is supposed to do that day—nor can he remember what he and his friends discussed at lunch. He comments: “another marble gone.” Then he remembers; they were describing what each one’s “Heaven” would be. His was to be an acrobat in old Greece when the Parthenon was a living building. The coming of dusk brings to mind a line of the famous twentieth century Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” He puns, saying that evenings were graces allowing a man to tumble gracefully “into thyme,/ Out of time.”
Section 2 is in the style of a metaphysical ode. Complicated metaphors fill it—a storm like a silver car, a rivulet of ink in which the poet must dip, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by means of the Golden Treasury. It is an ironic comment on the inability of poetry to stem the storm of old age. Section 3 at first is a puzzle: It is a series of disconnected phrases arranged helter-skelter on the page. It seems to be describing a passionate sexual encounter at first, then it modulates into a lament not only for the body’s ineptitude but also for the good memories that present failures obscure.
(The entire section is 616 words.)
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