The Ambassador Diaries of Jean de Bosschère and Edgar Poe Analysis

Norman Dubie

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Ambassador Diaries of Jean de Bosschère and Edgar Poe” has three sections, the first and third containing twelve stanzas each, the second containing five. Each stanza consists of six free-verse lines. Although Norman Dubie’s title refers to Edgar Allan Poe and poet Jean de Bosschère, the poem is about Conrad Aiken (1889-1973). From childhood on, Aiken loved Poe’s work, and he admired the poetry of Bosschère. Like these poets, Aiken was an orphan. The word “ambassador” comes from one of the passages in Aiken’s poem “Time in the Rock,” parts of which Dubie used as epigraphs in this poem, and Aiken referred to his Preludes for Memmon (1931) as a “spiritual diary.”

In section 1, Dubie addresses Aiken and then narrates an anecdote based on Aiken’s poem “And in the Hanging Gardens,” whose characters—a king, a princess, and a knave—were derived from Aiken and his parents. Dubie combines the king and the knave in a single figure and provides a historical name, King Henry VIII. The young king has thrown his drinking cup from a window of his castle and goes out in the rain, cursing it and his mother, to find it. When he does, he lies down at the edge of a meadow to sleep, but servants are coming to return him to his mother, who waits with dry linens. Dubie says that the king’s quest reflects a desire to be down in the muddy fields, dreaming of a castle in the air. Referring to Aiken’s fear of inheriting his father’s insanity, Dubie asks if his king is sane....

(The entire section is 620 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In addition to his use of literary and historical allusions, Dubie employs parallels in diction and syntax, including images of color and clothing, to establish relationships among characters and incidents in the poem. In section 1, he refers to a “dark courtesan” with “white braids” and to the “dark room that morning” where Aiken’s parents died. In section 2, he tells of the “lady in white” who “fell down this morning” and to the child who ran to her aid, as Aiken ran to his mother’s. The lady addresses the child as Peter, saying she had never felt so “carefree.” Aiken believed that his mother, although dead, spoke to him. Dubie renders this in a passage derived, as was the name “Peter,” from Aiken’s poem “The Coming Forth of Osiris Jones”: “There was a voice speaking” of a handkerchief, of a flower.

Dubie establishes another link with a color image when he refers to Aiken’s “red-eyed dolls” and to children who are kept “scrubbed and red/ And crying” by their mothers. This also connects with King Henry’s mother, waiting with dry linens, and with Aiken’s mother, who “had washed” his legs. Dubie creates another parallel with the color yellow. King Henry has “yellow sleeves,” and the Nazis burned Great Circle because they considered it a “yellow-book, decadent,” which is ironic, because it was Henry VIII and the Nazis who were decadent. They parallel the “princes and priests”...

(The entire section is 483 words.)