Apostle Town Summary

Apostle Town” is a 1995 poem by Anne Carson about the experience of grief in the wake of bereavement.

  • The speaker addresses a deceased individual, discussing the windy conditions that defined her life after the addressee’s death.
  • The speaker and a companion traveled along a road against the wind but found they could not communicate. There were gaps between them that became solid and black.
  • These interpersonal spaces remind the speaker of an old woman who was once beautiful and vivacious.

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.


"Apostle Town" is the first poem in Anne Carson's "The Life of Towns," a sequence of poems that revolve around different towns, real, symbolic, and imaginary. "The Life of Towns" was published in 1995 in Carson’s Plainwater, a collection of essays and poetry in which Carson often combines the two forms within discrete sections, as can be seen in “The Life of Towns.” In her introduction to the series of poems, Carson’s narrator announces that she is a "scholar of towns" and that there is no such thing as an "empty town"—only an empty scholar or observer. Each poem can be seen to offer, therefore, a scholar's observation on a particular town.


"Apostle Town" is a short poem, composed of seventeen lines which are, for the most part, brief. It is written in free verse, and while it does employ certain features characteristic of traditional poetry, such as capitalization at the beginning of each line, there is no consistent meter, line length, or rhyme. Each line ends with a period, regardless of whether or not it is the end of a sentence, creating a halting, tentative atmosphere which reflects the feelings of urgent grief with which the poem is concerned.

The speaker begins by addressing an unknown person who has died, stating that after this person’s death, every day “was windy.” It isn’t clear whether the speaker means this in a literal sense or if she is describing a metaphorical sensation. She goes on to elaborate that each day felt like a “wall” which presented an opposition to the speaker and to the addressee. The juxtaposition of the lines creates a blending of the two statements: the speaker is experiencing life as if walking into a very strong wind which never stops blowing.

The speaker goes on to say that "we" continued down the road, shouting at one another, but that this was "useless" because of the wind. It is unclear whether the “we” refers to the deceased addressee or to the presence of another companion with whom the speaker travels. The next line depicts this pair “Shouting sideways” towards one another as they progress down a road. This conversation is, at some level, figurative, representing a breakdown of communication, though it may be that the speaker’s movement “Along the road” is literal. The speaker then notes that the “spaces between” herself and her companion hardened, eliciting a feeling of futility.

Carson continues with this imagery in the subsequent lines, although there is a shift from the past tense to the present tense. The speaker describes how the spaces between herself and her companion, although “empty,” are, paradoxically, “solid.” She describes these spaces as "black" and compares them to the gaps between the teeth of an elderly woman. The spaces, like those gaps, are particularly "grievous," because the elderly woman in the image is someone "you" knew when she was young and beautiful. The “you” appears to refer to the deceased addressee, but it may function as a generalized address as well.

The final line of the poem is considerably longer than the others. In strong contrast to the short, almost effortful lines which have preceded it, it represents a release of tension. In this line, the speaker describes how the aforementioned elderly woman was once “Beautiful the nerves pouring around in her like palace fire.” Where the preceding lines of the poem have been constrained by strong wind and by opposition, the outward rush of this last line seems to mimic the fire to which it alludes, which in turn reflects the verve and vitality of the woman in her young and beautiful days.

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