Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The figure of the black angel, whether specifically meant or as a general reference, is a signal of death. Combined with the ubi sunt theme of the first stanza, one can understand this poem as a contemplation on the passing away of things. The shift from the first stanza to the second stanza, a general query to thoughts of friendship, tells the reader that the poet is contemplating the end of life as he knows it.

In the third stanza, it could be the friendships mentioned in the second stanza that are “the past of what was always future”—that is, friendship is based on what came before but is defined by its lasting forward into time. This line also could place those friends, and thus Coulette himself along with them, among those to be lamented by some future ubi sunt. It may be that when others look back upon them, maybe even during their own time, the differences that distinguished them as poets made them as strange as “old streetcars buried at sea”; the experience of being “in the wrong element” may be a kind of death even while they are living.

Further, these lines may also be about poems (which people are “as beautiful as”). It could be that poetry itself, speaking “in tongues,/ Silently, about nothing” is what is so strange, and it is what these friends do that is “what was always future.”

In all these possibilities revolve questions about death: Where are those who are gone? Where...

(The entire section is 521 words.)