“The Brief Journey West” is a meditative poem of twenty-eight lines divided into seven stanzas. The title suggests not only a particular journey, but a frontier push and, most important, the brevity of human life. The iambic pentameter of the poem gives it a formal, almost elegiac quality, which suits the subject of aging and death.
Written in the third person, the poem features an omniscient speaker with the stately quality of a court storyteller, an Anglo-Saxon “scop,” or bard. The “fathers” of the poem represent the fathers of any nation, movement, or race; the decline refers both to the pioneers and to their visions.
The poem opens with a description of the fathers coughing and spitting in a room by a “dry road.” Both the illness of the fathers and the arid land outside their “room” convey impotence and sterility. The reader is reminded that these ineffectual men once so conquered and crushed their environment that they “hung/ That bloody sun upon the southern wall.” Now, however, as the second stanza reveals, they are so old that the wrinkles of their skin duplicate the maps they made when, forging new territory, they drained wild swamps. They wanted to make a place for themselves in history, but now youth and discovery have vanished—they are only history’s “cracked precipitate.”
The poem’s third verse describes the decay of youth and vision through images of shattered glass and a sun that...
(The entire section is 461 words.)