The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Formally, this short poem is free verse, divided into five uneven stanzas. On the surface it seems obscure, a mixture of statements and images without much connection. There is no identifiable speaker, even though there is a mention of “we.” The poem begins, not with any statement of subject, but with an assertion that “the mind” “feels bruised.”

This sentence mixing abstraction and image, “mind” and “bruised,” is followed by an image of light making white holes through black “foliage,” succeeded in turn by a line that is both abstraction and image: “Or mist hides everything that is not itself.” If the poem seems obscure, however, it nevertheless has a precise meaning. All the assertions and images are Charles Tomlinson’s way of talking about poetry, by demonstration rather than mere precept. Even the apparently vague “we” becomes, clearly, “we poets.”

The alternation of abstraction and image in these first two lines echoes the structure of the rest of the poem, for the second and third stanzas are a series of statements (one should especially note the statement almost in the center that “Proportions/ Matter”), whereas the last two stanzas are almost purely visual imagery. Still, these images require the reader’s mind, as well as the poet’s mind, to work. In those last stanzas, “green twilight” has “violet borders,” a seemingly meaningless image until one thinks of the actualities of colors...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Tomlinson has called himself a phenomenologist; what this means to his poetry is that the concrete actuality of the world is primary. Moreover, he was trained as a painter; one would therefore expect visual images in Tomlinson’s poetry, and they are there. He was also greatly influenced by certain modernist American poets such as William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens.

Those poets were, in their own right, influenced by the Imagist movement of the first part of the twentieth century, a movement that insisted upon the primacy of the image, especially the visual image. Neither Williams nor Stevens ever held that the image existed only for itself, however; it suggests, always, an intellectual element. As with the late poems of Wallace Stevens, Tomlinson’s poems are not static images: His images suggest motion: “the light makes white holes,” and “butterflies/ [are] Nervously transferring themselves.” Motion is the very sign of the modern world, the world with which the poet must deal.

Tomlinson’s lines, as well as whole stanzas, are discursive, not merely imagistic. Even in the discursive statements, however, there is either an image or an implied image. If “the mind feels bruised,” the mind itself is somehow material, capable of being hurt. The following two lines, very imagistic, are designed to show what “bruises” the mind—the things of this world that are excessive or unclear. The second and third stanzas of the...

(The entire section is 505 words.)