“A Postcard from the Volcano” is a short elegy written in three-line verses of unrhymed tetrameter. The title image captures the theme and perspective of the poem. It suggests a small or compressed message from something big and violent, conveying a loss that is too huge for the tiny means chosen for the communication.
The poem is written from a first-person plural viewpoint. The speaker projects into the future, referring to another generation (“children”) looking back at the present one. There appears to be a significant gap between what they will see and what currently exists. One senses the inadequacy of the small “postcard” to express proper feelings of loss, or death.
The first half of the elegy, assuming the perspective of a future generation, expands on what they are missing—it is a loss that comes with the absence of first-hand experience. Hence, the poet employs images that betray action (“foxes”), sensual involvement (“smell” of grapes ripening), and feeling as a way of seeing. Yet all imply death (“breathing frost”), since they will be lost in the future.
At the center of the message there is a significant shift of tense—a transitional sentence connects yet separates the two generations. Now the poet uses images of distance (“spring clouds” beyond a “mansion-house”) to illustrate a “literate despair.” In abstract terms, he seems to make a judgment on language itself as a...
(The entire section is 491 words.)