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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem’s title is a symbolic representation of its subject. It suggests the extinguishing of the life of the fetus and eventually of the poet’s guilt as well, setting the course which the poem follows. The “Brass Furnace” is a controlling image for the physical and emotional being of the speaker. As a heated enclosure, it objectifies the womb, warming and generating the fetus. When the abortion removes the developing baby, the “Going Out” refers to the extinguishing of its life’s fire as well as the literal departure of the fetus from the mother. It also represents the direction of the poet’s emotional journey. As a furnace shuts down, it cools over time. The poem chronicles the cooling process that the poet goes through. She is very hot at first—her wrath ignited by her pain. As she works through her feelings, occasional sparks leap up to rekindle her passion before the body image of a fiery forge is replaced by one of a liquid carrying the promise of regeneration.

While the striking image of the brass furnace controls the progress of the poem, the range and variety of the images di Prima uses sustain the high emotional pitch at which it operates and makes each switch in mood convincing. In section II, when di Prima blames the baby for “quitting// as if the whole thing were a rent party/ & somebody stepped on your feet,” the reduction to the colloquial grounds the action in the familiar and tempers the pain with bizarre humor....

(The entire section is 441 words.)