Could someone help me analyze the poem "Repeat Until Time" by Hannah Sullivan?

This poem by Hannah Sullivan contains an unusual structure with a blend of free and blank verse. It describes an elderly person who is ill and then creatively explores the development of cancer using the metaphor of prosody. The final stanza examines the strange beauty of the human body even when it is diseased.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The first thing we might notice about this poem by Hannah Sullivan is that its first stanza is written in free verse with no rhythm or rhyme, but its second and third stanzas are actually in blank verse with a rhythm not not rhyme. This is a different sort of choice, but it allows the first stanza to proceed rather slowly, almost like prose, while it speeds up the reading of the second and third stanzas.

We can also analyze the content of this poem. The speaker is apparently describing an elderly person, who has “liver spots on the back of the hand.” The person also has “tears,” but this is ambiguous. It might mean tears in the person's eyes or cuts on the back of the person's hands. The first interpretation seems more likely in light of the next line that speaks of taking comfort in writing fiction.

We can see, though, why the person might find comfort in escaping the real world for a while. The second stanza shows us that the person is likely ill with cancer. The spots that become cancer, the speaker explains, were once benign, but then the cells divide and become malignant. Notice the personification and metaphor in the second line of this stanza: “Then the DNA forgets is prosody.” The DNA is personified. It forgets its prosody, the rhythm it is supposed to maintain within the body. Then the cells go off on their own course and divide, and the body experiences “the raddled beauty of doggerel.” “Raddled” means something that shows age or fatigue, like the elderly person in the poem's first line, and a “doggerel” refers to a piece of poetry that is badly written with an irregular rhythm. The cancer makes a person's body into a tired, irregular mess. Yet, surprisingly, the poet still sees beauty here.

The final stanza goes on to explore that beauty. The speaker thinks about what parts of a body look like under a microscope, comparing an ovary to “Venice at sunset,” almost too beautiful to be painted, as the painter Monet would say. Even the sperm looks like gold and has interesting movements. Here is the beauty of the human body even when it is ill and suffering.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial