Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Written as a Petrarchan sonnet (fourteen lines of iambic pentameter rhyming abbaacca deeffd), “Piazza Piece” illustrates Ransom’s skill with traditional forms. The octave (first eight lines) and sestet (remaining six lines) are an attempted dialogue between age (an elderly man) and youth (a young lady). Their differing attitudes make “Piazza Piece” essentially a debate poem (two characters argue the merits of diametrically opposite philosophical positions).
The old man’s message is human decline and eventual death. He tries to attract the lady’s attention and point out that decay is a law of nature, seen in the “dying” roses on her trellis and the “spectral” (ghostlike) moon above them. He introduces possible sexual tension when he insists that he is destined to “have” her soon (to possess her, possibly with violence). The final line of the octave repeats the first but with a period, a full stop, at the end. This line therefore becomes a pun on the two meanings of “trying”: The gentleman is attempting to communicate with the lady, but his behavior is very ’trying’ (exasperating, even frightening) to her.
Likewise, in the first and last lines of her stanza, the lady describes herself as “a lady young in beauty waiting.” The placement of the adjective ’young’ after the noun ’lady’—characteristic of chivalric tales, not colloquial speech—removes the lady from the sphere of everyday life....
(The entire section is 333 words.)
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