The Poem

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505

“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.

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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. Its “truths” are also examined, but only the tangible ones of its presence as a fixed, “stationary” object and as something written on leaves of paper (on “stationery”). Whatever is written, however, is left unread.

In the second stanza, the letter itself is no longer the focus of attention. Instead, images of distance and nearness, strangeness and familiarity, are raised. The day that has illuminated the letter is gone. The darkness of night comes from and is associated with the letter’s distant origin and its writer by the phrase “from your zone to mine.” The moon is not strong and certain and piercing, as the sunlight was, but is “tentative,” unlike her usual self. In this unworldly and uncertain nighttime, the owl and its mate “bell” to each other; they are familiar to each other and are able to communicate in a “dialogue of sorts.” So, while the letter is no longer visible and is still unread, a form of correspondence is occurring.

In the third stanza, the distance and strangeness of the writer of the letter become the focus. The second-person “you” is asleep, and “East” of the sleeper the next day “is already chronicled.” That “Tomorrow,” with its illumination, will come to the sleeping writer of the letter first, but will come to the speaker eventually, bringing the unanswered letter to his attention once again.

The final line tells the reader that despite the fact that the speaker has not yet read the letter, he has already guessed its contents and even knows, with a kind of submission, what his response to it will be.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416

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 have an unwritten form of communication that enables them to correspond in their “dialogue of sorts,” in which questions can be answers and vice versa.

The poem uses personification to emphasize this second form of correspondence. The light of the sun is spoken of as a person, a being that “travelled the crowded pages” of the letter as if it were a busy train station (perhaps a distant pun with “stationary”). The moon is spoken of as a person too, one who is “not wholly herself.” Further, the sunlight “shifts shadows” and “changes the hue of the ink,” seeming to have an effect on the contents of the letter. The personified sun and moon, and the signs of the zodiac also function as allusions to the classical mythological deities and heroes who intervene in human affairs. These devices indicate that the celestial bodies all participate in a kind of correspondence that in the poem is represented by the letter, but has nothing to do with reading it.

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