In Norman Silver's poem "Postcard," what are oily rainbows?I'm having a hard time understanding the stanza:Only a single tourist beguiled by the...

In Norman Silver's poem "Postcard," what are oily rainbows?I'm having a hard time understanding the stanza:

Only a single tourist beguiled by the oily rainbows flashing neon in the waves goes for a lucky dip and finds plastic treasures. Above the waterfall piddling its pea green into the pond where the puffy goldfish float in the shelter where the ancients used to look out to sea.

Expert Answers
appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This stanza seems to be about pollution. Specifically, "oily rainbows" is a visual effect seen on water that contains pollution from petrol products, such as gasoline, motor oil or plastics. The mention of "plastic treasures" found by the tourist who goes swimming seems to confirm this theory, that the water is polluted by trash. We see further hints of this in the image of "the waterfall piddling its pea green into the pond where the puffy goldfish float" -- the pea green color suggests polluted water, and the goldfish being "puffy" suggests that they are dead (poisoned by pollution), as does the fact that they are floating.

The poem's narrator also refers to a sort of sadness related to the degradation of this natural place over time, in referring to "the shelter where the ancients used to look out to sea." This hints that the degradation may have begun long ago, when these humans were "sheltering" here and looking towards the sea, which is an image of ambition, the basis of human colonization and industry, the base causes of pollution. The title "postcard" also speaks to the fleeting beauty of the place before it was ruined, as if it is only beautiful in memory. It also references the human tendency to reduce natural beauty to photographs or concepts, instead of placing value in the place itself, and the physical experience of being there, which would perhaps prevent pollution on a wider scale, because appreciation for visiting the physical location can inspire visitors to preserve its beauty.