The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Formally, “Against Confidences” consists of eight quatrains, with very short lines of between three and five syllables and an exact alternating rhyme scheme of abab. The poem argues against the modern popularity of pouring forth intimate details, whether in tell-all books, confessional poetry, psychoanalysis, or personal relationships. In a humorous and satiric tone, the poem explains how “Candour,” one of the poem’s series of personified abstractions reminiscent of the British neoclassical verse that Donald Davie esteemed, has changed in its relationship to “loose lips” (stanza 1) or “mouths that now/ Divulge, divulge” (stanza 8).

In the present time—the present being emphasized by the repetition of the word “now” in the opening and closing stanzas—loose lips or divulging mouths describe Candour, in Davie’s British spelling, as “friend.” This situation suggests that would-be confidants, whether in writing or in personal relationships, confuse the indiscriminate spilling of confidential details with frankness and truth.

Moving from a third-person objective point of view to the first-person plural, the poem’s speaker asserts that the genuine revelation of (or quest for) truth signified by Candour cannot exist in the apparently heedless flow of expression in an environment created or distorted by “our compulsive/ Needs” on “couches” where “we sleep, confess,/ Couple.” The word “couches” may signify the bed as the site of an individual’s dreaming or a couple’s lovemaking as well as the psychiatrist’s couch. All these are spheres in which self-interest undermines the ultimate truthfulness of what appears to be candid outpouring.

Returning to the third-person point of view, the speaker defines the main facets of Candour as “reticence” or restraint, the subjection of all talk and feeling to actual test and intellectual examination, and toleration of a degree of privacy, hazy belief, or half-illuminated conviction but discouragement of self-indulgent and deceptive effusiveness.