The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Gentleness, even all gentleness, may sound restrictive, but the poem “To All Gentleness” asserts that apparent opposites are akin. The first simile, likening “pink roses bending ragged in the rain” to a plumber’s silvered cylindrical tank, posits a relationship between apparent incomparables. The speaker encounters both on a trip through the rain, the cylinder advertising a plumber’s shop. Both, the speaker finds, invoke “enduring” gentleness. Surrounded by rain, the roses support a cylinder of raindrops above them, linking them surprisingly but with the clarity of geometry to the plumber’s tank. The soft, organic, and vulnerable and the hard, mechanical, and indestructible are thus seen to be related. Indeed, the rose plant itself, to protect its tender flower, produces thorns and is thus a combination of gentle beauty and the threat of violence.

His contemporaries, the speaker reflects, ignore the lessons of nature about survival depending upon complementary contraries, the soft and hard, the gentle and fierce. People foolishly distinguish between high art—opera and the classics—and the everyday, the “anti-poetic.” That distinction is, the speaker asserts, “Garbage.” Poetry should not divide the world but should, like an old painting of the biblical prophet Isaiah’s ideal, the lion and lamb lying down together in peace, cause one to see the unity of what otherwise seems opposed. People aim too narrowly, failing to see...

(The entire section is 592 words.)