The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Bobo’s Metamorphosis” is a 102-line poem—or cycle of poems—in eight sections, each having its own style, subject, and structure. Despite the differences, the poem develops cohesiveness on the basis of recurrent imagery and consistent thematic focus.

Drawn from an eighteenth century Polish text entitled Zabawy przyjemne i poyteczne (1776; entertainments pleasant and useful), the poem’s epigraph, “The distance between being and nothingness is infinite,” serves as an excellent introduction to both the poem and the six typographically distant lines that make up its opening section. In this section, which resembles Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” the first three lines are lyrically intense but only barely sketched word-pictures. The fourth and longest line introduces a narrative “I.” The fifth is the most abstract, as an annunciation of the reader’s dilemma and the poem’s theme: “Life was given but unattainable.” The sixth line, a reprise of the preceding five, transforms seeing into feeling and telescopes time and space into a single, fragmentary transtemporal moment: “From childhood till old age ecstasy at sunrise.”

Dawn and dusk serve as ways of establishing a painterly and almost mythic frame of reference and of creating an odd continuity between the poem’s otherwise discontinuous parts. Section 2, for example, begins with a fragment which almost seems an afterthought to section 1, an attempt to complete what was left unfinished: “As life goes, many of these mornings.” Section 2 also reintroduces the “I” who only fleetingly appeared in section 1. Again there is a telescoping of time (“I was grown up and small”), but now this telescoping is contextualized as the seemingly random recollections of a narrator who may be Miosz, as suggested by the geographical references in line 9, but who may also be an insect, as suggested by the...

(The entire section is 793 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Although it refers specifically to a single children’s story, the title “Bobo’s Metamorphosis” implies a profusion of endlessly metamorphosing autobiographical materials (people, places, events, as well as literary texts), which in turn implies Miosz’s belief that poetry comes from personal experience, not from other poetry. For Miosz, however, poetry must never be merely personal, or merely historical. A poem is not a confession but a distillation and transformation of life into art through form. By form, Miosz means something quite different than meter, rhyme, and the other trappings of conventional verse. He means the “search” for “direct forms,” a search which may, as in the case of “Bobo’s Metamorphosis,” involve the bringing together of many different forms, including (as in the first section) ones that may be mere notes or jottings.

The language of these notelike lines, and indeed of the entire poem, is simple and direct—surprisingly so given the range and depth of Miosz’s religious and philosophical interests. This simple speech is well suited to what Miosz has called his “struggle to seize hold of fragments of reality.” His need to capture in words “something that actually happened” becomes most clearly articulated in section 5. There, Miosz takes exception to Poland’s other great contemporary poet, Zbigniew Herbert, for claiming in one of his own poems that “The most beautiful object/ is the one that...

(The entire section is 465 words.)