The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Circulations of the Song” is a long poem divided into twenty-two stanzas of various lengths. There are 306 lines in this highly developed irregular ode. The title suggests circular as well as cyclic patterns among the stanzas, while the subtitle (“After Jalal al-Din Rumi”) indicates the model that Robert Duncan is using, that of thirteenth century Persian poet Jalal al-Din Rumi. Rumi, as he has been known for centuries, was one of the founders of a sect of the Sufi religion called the Dancing Mevlevi Dervishes; he was also one of the supreme poets of Persia. He had been a sober and strict theologian and preacher of the Sufi religion until he fell in love with a young man named Shams al-Din, who became Rumi’s “beloved.” After that transforming experience, Rumi began composing ecstatic odes, which were accompanied by dancing and music from the reed pipe and drum.

The subject of Duncan’s poem is his longtime companion, artist Jess Collins. Duncan used the term “beloved” in many of his poems, but it is in this poem in which he most clearly identifies Jess as the beloved, though he does not use his name. The mood of the poem is ecstatic declamation, as Duncan seeks to find images and metaphors that can adequately express his devotion to Jess. Each major section is built around metaphors and image clusters that Duncan used throughout his poetic career, such as the tree and leaves, the stars, water wells, speech itself, sexual orgasm, the...

(The entire section is 416 words.)