The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Correspondence” is a short, three-stanza poem without rhyme or meter, but with a loose 4-4-5-4 beat pattern in each stanza. “Correspondences” is a traditional title or subject of a poem. The French Symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire, for example, published a poem in Les Fleurs du mal (1857; Flowers of Evil, 1909) entitled “Correspondences,” and the modern American poet Robert Duncan also used the title “Correspondences.” It is a word with two meanings. Poems are often addressed to someone and are therefore a kind of letter, a form of correspondence with that person. At the same time, poems often bring out previously unseen associations, or correspondences, by techniques such as imagery, simile, and metaphor. Since Henri Coulette evokes both traditions by giving his poem this title, the poem must be examined for evidence of both.

The poem’s relation to correspondence by exchange of letters is announced in the first line. There is no first-person pronoun, only an unidentified speaker describing a “letter” that “lies” on top of something. It has been where it is “all day,” and sunlight has passed across it as hours have gone by. In this first stanza, while the description of the letter is physical, the speaker describing it is clearly concerned with its contents. The letter is examined by both the speaker and the bright sunlight, which was even “changing the hues of the ink,” but it is not read by either....

(The entire section is 505 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In addition to the dual meaning of the title, “Correspondence” uses several puns, beginning with the play on the double meaning of “lies” in the first line and on “stationary” in the fourth. The word “chronicled” in the eleventh line is a play on recorded chronicles of history and on “chronical,” an archaic adjective that means regulated by time. These puns are not mere jokes. Each of them represents two alternatives: action and inaction. A letter that “lies” on a table does nothing; it is inactive, immobile, fixed. For a person to write “lies” in a letter is an action. “Stationary,” in one sense, means “still,” “unmoving,” but, in another, means the pages (stationery) upon which one writes letters. The chronicle of time passes without any action by any person: Day turns to night and night to day no matter what anyone does. The chronicle of history, however, is written only by human effort. These puns play on images of activity and inactivity, and the specific activity they are concerned with is writing. This exactly mirrors the concern of the writer of the poem: what has already been and what will be written.

To return to the title pun, while the speaker is concerned with what is written and what he will write, the poem also shows other kinds of correspondences: The “tentative” light of the moon is a counterpart to the light of the sun; the planets and zodiacal stars influence each other and the earth. The owls...

(The entire section is 416 words.)