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.)