The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Brass Furnace Going Out,” subtitled “Song, After an Abortion,” is a direct address by the poet to the spirit of an aborted baby who functions as a comforting, though haunting, presence throughout the work. It consists of twelve irregular sections written in variants of open verse ranging from three to forty-three lines. In categorizing it as a “Song,” Diane di Prima is using the term in the classical sense of an ode—a song composed for performance at a public occasion. Her intention is to take a private struggle and make it accessible to a large audience. The prevailing mood of the song is elegiac as it laments the death of the baby as well as the lost possibilities of life, but there are radical shifts in mood as the poet works through stages of grief and guilt, richocheting from section to section in a pattern of abrupt emotional reversals. The first section finds the poet already part of a world both absurd and horrible:

and what of the three year old girl who poisoned her mother?that happens, it isn’t just us, as you can see—what you took with you when you leftremains to be seen.

This question introduces a pattern of reversal by juxtaposing the horror of an abortion with an equally chilling alternative: the child killing her mother. The poet acknowledges her place in the drama but does not yet know what the impact of her actions will be. The second section provides one possibility, a lurch to emotional extremity as the poet expresses resentment toward both the father (now absent) and the baby, accusing the child of “quitting/ at the first harsh treatment.” This vindictive bitterness is countered by the motherly tone of the third section, as she imagines a letter to the child, who seems to be merely away at school or on a trip. “I want to/ keep in touch” she writes, “I want to know how you/ are, to send you cookies.” This comforting dream is interrupted by a...

(The entire section is 842 words.)