Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“I am strongly, strongly persuaded that the entire area of poetry is consciousness,” Duncan has said. Such a statement offers a reliable vantage point from which to consider Duncan’s project as a whole. For beyond rhetoric and incantation, beyond manic insistence, there is a pointed effort to understand the complex give and take of the situation, and there is a genuine striving to grasp, analyze, and discriminate among degrees of involvement, to define the inner tensions and their outcome. There results a clearer picture of the transformations undergone by the original input, or given data, of the remembered dream. What is all this about if not an enhanced state of consciousness?

Now, viewed from a restricted angle, the theme of the poem is the precarious balance between the mutual attraction of dominance and dependency on the one hand, and, in a less conspicuous manner, between the gradual disenchantment and eventual separation on the other. In the words of Duncan’s biographer, “Already at the time Robert realized that his mother was to embody the other, restrictive and destructive pole of womanhood in his life and work.According to one account, the difficulties began with Robert’s emerging homosexuality” (Ekbert Faas, Young Robert Duncan, 1983).

This speculation supports a sexual reading of the poem that undoubtedly has been on Duncan’s mind. The symbolism generated by such elements of the text as the treading of the mother’s wrist, the bleeding involved, the dreaming within the little hood with many bells, the falling, or such elaborations of these elements as the hooded silence, the muffled dreams, the jangling bells, the tearing with his beak, the curb of his...

(The entire section is 701 words.)