Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The major thematic concern of the poem is, as previously noted, that people are separate from one another, but that they need one another. This need is deeply egoistic and destructive. The people whom the speaker describes in the first lines are, by implication, not too different from the speaker himself, the point being that he should be able to relate to them if one can relate to others at all. Pinsky is, by using these people and this speaker, emphasizing the difficulty. “Only connect,” the English novelist E. M. Forster wrote, suggesting that individuals, by coming truly together, could perhaps create a better world. Pinsky’s poem questions whether this coming together is possible.

Even the title emphasizes this theme in stating that the poem is “about” people. It is not a lyric effusion about one person, not a communication to a particular person. Rather, it stands outside people, even when the reader seems to be inside the mind of the speaker. The poem is saying that people cannot quite leap the gulf that separates them, one from the other. They cannot because people are all essentially egoistic, incapable of real love for others: “Hate my whole kind, but me,/ Love me for myself.” People want to be loved simply because they are “selves,” not because they are human beings.

Human beings have thought of themselves as different from other species because humans are supposed to be capable of altruism—selflessly loving others. Yet humans are animals, concerned primarily if not exclusively with themselves. At the end of the poem, the speaker says that one can only “dream” of the gust of wind that connects everyone, for it has become a “dark wind.” These words are set against the earlier reference to a “gust of diffuse tenderness.” Perhaps the dark wind can cross “the wide spaces between us,” but those spaces are indeed wide. Oddly, the poem is in the end not entirely pessimistic. The speaker regrets that people do not, perhaps cannot, love one another, yet such a regret suggests that at least they can try. In addition, a poem about a failure to connect is paradoxically a way of connecting, for art is one way that human beings do communicate beyond simply presenting facts.