The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Black Angel” is a distilled version of a longer poem by Henri Coulette about a memorial statue of a black angel that stands in the midst of an Iowa City cemetery. A number of Coulette’s contemporaries also wrote poems about this statue, though his contemporaries did not publish their poems. Coulette seems to have been uncertain about what he wanted to do with the figure; he wrote at least three versions of the poem, eventually condensing it so far as to make the reference of the title and the line “I will not meet her eye” somewhat obscure.

The metrical form of the stanza is the same in all the versions of the poem. It follows a pattern of beats that repeat 5-2-3-4-5-3 in each stanza—a metrical form invented, according to poet Robert Mezey, by Peter Everwine. The first version, of nine stanzas, was not published, but it was printed privately on a double folio that held nine pen-and-ink drawings of the figures invoked by the poem, done by a fellow student. The 1963 version published in The New Yorker consisted of the first eight stanzas of the poem, without the original ninth. It was published in The War of the Secret Agents and Other Poems (1966) as the four-stanza poem that is discussed here.

The whole poem is in the first person, and while sometimes a poet uses first-person singular even when he or she is writing in the persona of an imaginary speaker, this poem gives no indication that the speaker...

(The entire section is 568 words.)