Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
In “Sapphics Against Anger,” the speaker, who seems inclined to rush to judgments and jump to conclusions, is forced to pause and reflect on the harm of yielding to negative emotions. He envisions ruining his marriage with his angry reactions and his capacity to exaggerate common situations into warlike moments. In the poem, the speaker develops a strategy for understanding and controlling his anger, which builds with each stanza.
The setting of the poem suggests an argument occurring over dinner and a simmering down as the speaker washes the dishes. Through this ordinary act of cleaning up, the speaker realizes the degree of his own mess and gains a clear perspective. The rising and falling patterns of the sapphic stanzas imitate the emotional ebb and flow of the speaker’s thoughts as they reflect the pitch of the poem and its rhythm.
The speaker, at the beginning of the poem, does not possess any special insight into human nature, but by stanza 7, he is more aware that he must be responsible for the intended as well as the unintended consequences of his anger. Vergil’s observation that anger caused the “poor dope” to ruin his marriage is the turning point in the poem. From that point on, the elements of the poem join to enable speaker to realize he must change.
Steele writes about the complexity of human nature in “Sapphics Against Anger.” He makes the speaker neither a hero nor a villain; rather, he is an ordinary man, expressing a common failure, who sees a need to mend his ways before it is too late. The speaker finds his hope in the metaphoric cleaning of the dishes, as his old self swirls away with the soap and the dirt from the plates. In the end, the speaker is aware of his powers, both intellectual and emotional, to lead with compassion, not to be led by his anger.