The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Corsons Inlet” is a poem of 128 lines recounting the poet’s reaction to what he sees, thinks, and feels during a morning walk along a seashore. It becomes an almost ecstatic celebration of change, of form as temporary but beautiful because it cannot endure. The poem is written in what seems to be free verse, but while it avoids rhyme there are frequent echoings of sound. While the line lengths vary from one syllable to as many as fifteen, there is something approaching a pattern in the arrangement of the lines; while there are no stanzas or strophes, the patterns formed by groups of lines bear a shifting resemblance to one another.

This avoidance of clear patterns while suggesting that patterns do exist is a reflection of the central idea of “Corsons Inlet.” As the poet walks, he finds himself liberated from the “straight lines, blocks, boxes, binds/ of thought” into a world of sensation and motion. His mind can move freely, and he characterizes his work as “swerves of action” like the changing shape of sand dunes. He can cope with details, no matter how small, but the question of whether there is a single meaning in the process, some all-encompassing pattern, is not his to answer: “overall is beyond me.”

Having rejected wide-ranging philosophies, the poet proclaims his openness, his willingness to accept what he sees and to allow the forms to define themselves. He describes the transitions in the natural world, which...

(The entire section is 448 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The appearance of total disorder when in fact there are large kinds of order is both the theme of “Corsons Inlet” and its form: change is “not chaos.” The poem is divided into groups of lines too irregularly to allow the divisions to be called stanzas, but these divisions are not random. Many consist of two or more long lines followed by very short lines, sometimes consisting of a single syllable or a single word, which are followed in turn by more long lines. The divisions are of different lengths, but generally range between three and nine lines, with most containing six or seven.

The movement of the poem is also less random than it seems at first. If there is no regular meter, there is rhythm, conversational for the most part, with stresses used chiefly to emphasize significant passages. The narration follows the course of a walk along the dunes, returning “along the inlet shore.” The imagery of sight, sound, smell, and touch is all drawn from the natural surroundings, as are the metaphors; early in the poem, the poet says, “I allow myself eddies of meaning,” drawing the metaphor from the movement of water and sand. In his poetry, he says, there is “a direction of significance/ running/ like a stream through the geography of my work.”

The imagery is precise, for the most part, but it is sometimes complex, as when he plays with different meanings of the concept of order: “pulsations of order/ in the bellies of minnows:...

(The entire section is 508 words.)