The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“City Without a Name” is a long, biographical poem in free verse divided into twelve sections. The speaker, the poet Czesaw Miosz, is physically traveling through Death Valley, California, but the landscape of memory and the people who inhabit his own personal city of remembrance, his “city without a name,” are emotionally and spiritually more real to him than the heat, sand, and salt of the desert. The first sections of the poem set up this juxtaposition between past and present in which, paradoxically, it is the present that seems motionless and almost lifeless; the only other person within three hundred miles of the poet is an “Indianwalking a bicycle uphill.” The past, however, changes constantly in a kaleidoscope of time and images of his native Lithuania.

The greater part of the poem’s beginning is made up of long, three-line stanzas, but, in the fifth section, the lines suddenly become short, curt, almost flippant as the poet tries to put the past behind him. “Who cares?” and “Rest in peace” he says, but this almost sarcastic mood soon changes back to the dominant meditative tone of the poem and its correspondingly longer lines when, in the seventh section, the poet considers his own personal situation as a man carried “By fate, or by what happens” far away from his homeland and his physical past. “Time,” he cries, “cuts me in two.” An emphatic “I” (distinct from “them”) governs this section but, as the...

(The entire section is 492 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“City Without a Name” is very representative of the poetry Miosz has written in the United States. He has relaxed the structural formality of his earlier poetry by lengthening and shortening the lines at will (the last section is almost prose), and little effort is made to rhyme. In the English translation (by Miosz himself), the fifth section does contain short bursts of rhyme: “lashes/Masses,” “night/light,” and “pity/highly”; the same device is also used in the more pensive but still short lines of section 7: “weepily/stupidity,” “snow/know,” and “new/two.” However, this is not typical of Miosz’s later poetry or of the structure of “City Without a Name.” In fact, its presence is meant to highlight thematic mood rather than poetic form.

The absence of metaphor, simile, and symbolism is very typical of Miosz’s later poetry. Nothing is a symbol of anything, and nothing resembles anything else; everything is concrete and is exactly what it is. Miosz has said that “the accidents of life are definitely more important than the ideal object.” He perceives no difference between the language of poetry and the language of the “real” world and wants no poetic finery or linguistic gymnastics that, in his opinion, separate rather than reconcile. In “City Without a Name,” the dialectic between past and present is accomplished not through symbols or allusion but through the naming of concrete objects and people. Anna and...

(The entire section is 501 words.)