Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Thinking of the Lost World” can register somewhat deceptively upon a first reading, for its impulse seems nostalgic, and nostalgia—that attitude of longing for the past—is always tinged with a certain gloom. The conclusion might tempt readers to deem the whole enterprise an indulgence in despair—unless, that is, they challenge any facile explanation of the “emptiness” and the “nothing” that suddenly prevail in a poem abounding with people, places, and things.

When the speaker recognizes in his own hand the hand of his grandmother, he realizes also that time has wrought a transformation, that the past is resilient and potent as long as he is, but only through the agency of the imagination. Those “gray illegible advertisements” somehow have to be “legible” for the soul to memorize them. For “soul,” one might substitute imagination, and it functions by imposing on the “nothingness” a meaning. The mature poet trades one “emptiness” for another, his present for his past, but he recognizes that all is fraught with meaning and simply awaits the touch of the creative power. That power is his act of faith, his “belief” or his “crystal set” that will allow him a communion with the Lost World. In truth, then, he has lost “nothing,” as one can see in his playful manipulation of that word in the final lines. It is the kind of imaginative and witty wordplay that suggests not only a reconciliation with the past but also...

(The entire section is 404 words.)