The Poem

“In the Crevice of Time” is a brief meditative lyric consisting of four stanzas of six lines each. The first stanza makes clear the subject of the poem: poet Josephine Jacobsen’s reaction to cave paintings in Spain. Unlike many poems that respond to or are influenced by works of art, this poem provides very little sense of what the cave painting looks like. The first three lines identify an ambiguous prey—“The bison, or tiger, or whatever beast”—and “the twiggy hunter/ with legs and spear.” The rest of the poem speculates on the artist who created the painting that has endured so long, preserved “in the crevice of time.”

The artist is introduced in the last line of the first stanza as “the hunter-priest” since, in an era so primitive, artistry could hardly have been his main occupation. The second stanza shows that the poet imagines this cave painter as the original artist, the first (or one of the first) to act on an impulse to represent reality. She imagines him struck, in the act of hunting, by the spatial arrangement of animals and hunters; the hunter becomes an observer and art is born as “an offering strange as some new kind of death.” The puzzling comparison of art to death grows clearer in the third stanza, where the poet relates the beginning of cave painting to the beginning of the practice of burial—both behaviors said to distinguish humans from their more animalistic ancestors. The death that is related to art,...

(The entire section is 403 words.)

Forms and Devices

This poem reads prosaically at first. That is, the diction is simple and speechlike, and, in the first two stanzas, most of the lines are enjambed, which tends to disguise the metrical pattern and rhyme. However, like most modern rhymed poetry, a careful structure undergirds the graceful surface of the poem. The rhyme scheme seems more pronounced in the third stanza, with its end-stopped lines and one extra rhyme. The first and last lines of each stanza rhyme, as do the second and fourth. More importantly, the first/last rhyming words outline significant contrasts that reveal some of the poem’s meaning: “beast” and “priest”; “breath” and “death”; “grave” and “gave”; and “wall” and “burial.” The contrast between “beast” and “priest” highlights the contrast between primitive and civilized organizations of the human species. “Breath” and “death” suggest the awareness of mortality that shapes human consciousness. “Grave” and “gave” remind the reader that the burial customs of prehistoric people ironically give the contemporary world information about how they lived. The “wall” that is the prehistoric canvas is also part of a tomb or “burial.”

Most of the lines in the poem are four-stress lines with ten or eleven syllables, indicating a mix of iambic and anapestic feet. In stanzas 1, 2, and 4, the fifth line is a shorter, three-stress line. The point is that the poem, while not adhering to a rigorously...

(The entire section is 603 words.)