Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Strand’s chief theme is the exploration of the mind working through language to define the nature of the self. The attempt to reconcile two opposing selves is perhaps best seen in the relationship between the book and the speaker’s supplement to and commentary on the book. The closing two lines of the poem read “They are the book and they are/ nothing else.” Yet the previous two hundred lines have attempted to explore the reality that their life must be, or at least wants to be, more than the book. For example, at one point the speaker awakens and believes that there is no more to their lives than the book, but the woman disagrees and then goes back to sleep, attempting to elude the control of the linguistically constructed self.

The key tool in this exploration is language. Because language is such a problematic tool, however, writing provides hopeless hope. Language can construct the self, but anything constructed by language is suspect. At a key moment, the speaker says of the book, “It describes your dependence on desire,/ how the momentary disclosures/ of purpose make you afraid.” The pronouns “you” and “your” have three possible antecedents. In the structure of the poem, they most literally refer to the woman. They could also be used as a universalizing substitute for “I” and “my.” Finally, they could refer to the reader being directly addressed. At any rate, language exists, the passage tells readers,...

(The entire section is 500 words.)