How is the librarian characterized in "Eating Poetry"?

The librarian in the poem "Eating Poetry" is characterized as dismayed, disappointed, and frustrated. Initially through her physical features and gestures, she is shocked and saddened upon discovering the speaker eating pages. After dogs enter the library and the speaker acts like one, the librarian grows angry and disgusted, as demonstrated through her actions.

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In Mark Strand’s poem “Eating Poetry,” the speaker describes his jubilation at reading and then literally devouring poetry in a library. So inspired by the words and images, he cannot help himself from consuming the texts, with ink “run[ning] from the corners of my mouth.”

In the second stanza, a librarian appears, and she is perplexed and dismayed at the scene.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

Through her actions and physical features, the librarian is characterized as shocked and disappointed. Happening upon this absurd scene, she cannot believe her eyes—a person is eating the pages of a book! Instead of chastising him, though, she just appears disappointed. As a librarian, she probably has witnessed vandalism before, and the speaker is yet another delinquent student (if the poem’s setting is a school library) or patron (if in a public library). Her eyes, gesture, and actions reveal displeasure and resignation—she is merely “sad,” puts her hand in the folds or pockets of her dress, and seems to walk away. She behaves as if she knows that she is ultimately powerless and cannot do anything. The fact that she is wearing a dress further emphasizes the stereotype of a feminine, schoolmarm-like figure.

The scene becomes even more surreal after dogs appear in the library, and

The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

Again, the librarian’s actions characterize her as frustrated (“stamp” and “weep”) and confused. The speaker observes that the librarian “does not understand.” Does he mean that she does not appreciate the transformative power of poetry or that she simply does not comprehend what is going on—which is completely understandable! After all, a man eating pages and dogs suddenly appearing constitute a strange scene.

The librarian is horrified when the speaker acts like a dog and licks her hand. Is she disgusted or afraid? Strand does not reveal her exact emotions, because he does not show her reactions to the speaker’s later actions in the final stanza:

I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

Words like snarl and dark are all scary, but the phrase romp with joy undercuts the creepiness of the scene.

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