The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Brief Pause in the Organ Recital” is a lyric poem that contains twelve carefully balanced, four-line stanzas of free verse. The immediacy of the experience recounted in the poem is emphasized by the fact that almost all the verbs in the poem are in the present tense.

The poet/speaker is attending an organ recital in a medieval cathedral. The sudden silence during a brief pause in the program breaks into his elevated mood and makes him aware of the traffic noises—“that greater organ”—outside the cathedral. He perceives that though it lacks the rigidly formal structure of the organ music to which he has been listening, the traffic noise has a freer rhythm of its own. Next, he becomes aware, as if it were part of the street noise, of the pulsing of his own blood, what he calls “the cascade that hides inside me.” The passing of a trailer-truck heavy enough to shake the six-hundred-year-old walls of the cathedral brings to mind an experience he had as a child of four: Seated on his mother’s lap, he listened to the distant voices of contending adults (“the winners and the losers”). Though he initially appears to reject the idea, he senses a similarity between the mother’s lap and the sheltering church. In effect, he is reinventing a metaphor that became a cliché in an earlier age of firm religious faith: the Church as the believer’s mother.

Gazing at the pillars that support the roof of the cathedral, he appears to rediscover a common Romantic symbol, that of nature (the forest) as a vital, protective force. The mental image that likens the interior of the cathedral to a forest serves as a transition to a remembered dream with an outdoor setting....

(The entire section is 692 words.)