Themes and Meanings

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 508

In developing its themes relating to death, grief, and loss, “Angle of Geese” departs in significant ways from some traditional aspects of the elegy. In general, elegiac poems express the movement of a speaker through a process of grieving that comprises several phases. A typical formal elegy, including such famous...

(The entire section contains 508 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Angle of Geese study guide. You'll get access to all of the Angle of Geese content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Themes
  • Analysis
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In developing its themes relating to death, grief, and loss, “Angle of Geese” departs in significant ways from some traditional aspects of the elegy. In general, elegiac poems express the movement of a speaker through a process of grieving that comprises several phases. A typical formal elegy, including such famous examples as John Milton’s “Lycidas” or Ben Jonson’s “On My First Son,” contains certain elements: an exposition of the loss, explaining who has died, and an expression of deep feeling—sorrow often mixed with outrage at the injustice and inexplicability of the particular loss. The elegist then typically introduces some philosophical statement regarding death: a universal principle that rationalizes death or endows it with some positive quality. Finally, the elegist will apply the universal principle to his or her individual situation and come to some reconciliation or at least resignation by placing the individual loss in a context of larger meaning. Sometimes hope or resolve for the future is expressed. Not all elegies contain all these steps, but at least some of them are characteristic of elegiac poetry.

Momaday, rather than moving discursively through the elegiac form, depends on the juxtaposition of the two events—the death of the child, and the remembered goose hunt—to imply by association the relationship of the individual death to the universal fact of death. The child’s death remains beyond rational thought and language, an enigma and profoundly disturbing thought for which any attempt at explanation would be an impertinence. The death of the goose, on the other hand, is accepted as part of life (the hunt which killed the goose is suppressed in the poem, and the goose seems to fall spontaneously from the sky before the awed gaze of uninvolved watchers); the animal struggles neither for life nor against death, but remains a detached yet fully conscious participant in the cycle of nature.

Yet the poet makes no explicit connection between the natural cycle of life and death, as recognized in the memory of the animal’s death, and the specific loss of the child. The two events are juxtaposed, and any connection between them must be left for the reader to infer. Such an inference might be made following the characterization of the goose as the “ancestral” goose. The term suggests the continuity between the human and natural world that Momaday finds is characteristic of Native American philosophies, in which man is part of nature, indivisible from its processes and kin to all its creatures. Such a philosophy finds usable wisdom in nature, transcending the enigma of death and the discontinuity between time and eternity. The suggestion of this continuity as relevant to the occasion of the child’s death remains a suggestion, however; the meaning of death remains elusive, undecidable, and open. Hence, “Angle of Geese” lacks the closure of explicit reconciliation to the death being mourned and the addition of a promise or resolution for the future. Death, particular or abstract, remains a profound enigma, though sorrow may be tempered with friendship and sympathy.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Angle of Geese Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Next

Analysis