The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Crystals Like Blood,” a twenty-seven-line free-verse lyric, develops an analogy between mechanical processes and memory to create a synthesis of external and internal experience. Standing at the grave of a person he loved, the speaker remembers finding a fragment of stone containing red crystals. As the poem unfolds, he compares the process of extracting mercury from cinnabar to the process of memory.

In a single two-line sentence, the first of the four verse paragraphs introduces the memory of discovering the stone containing the crystals but does not mention the present setting or the dead friend. In nine lines, the second verse paragraph describes the speaker’s picking up “a broken chunk of bed-rock” and examining it carefully, turning “it this way and that.” The weight of the stone surprises him. One face of it is brown limestone; the other contains crystals of “greenish-grey quartz-like stone” in which magenta lines appear. The verse paragraph confines itself to carefully chosen description without overtly introducing metaphors.

Repeating “I remember” from the opening of the poem, the third verse paragraph, ten lines, shifts to a time between the “long ago” discovery of the stone and the speaker’s present. During this intermediate time, the speaker had observed the mechanical process by which “mercury is extracted from cinnebar.” A spiderlike pile-driving machine hammered the stone to fragments of ore,...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Crystals Like Blood” is written in rhythmic free verse, in which the line breaks coincide either with punctuation or with breaks in syntax. The variety in sentence lengths contributes to the conversational tone of the poem’s voice and keeps it from becoming monotonous. The unforced, asymmetrical structure of the poem suggests naturalness, in contrast with the “symmetrical” mechanism of the pile driver. The poem moves in a circle from graveside to graveside.

The conveyor in the third stanza is reiterated in the “treadmill” to which the speaker likens his memory. What at first seems to be a mixed metaphor of “torrents” produced by a treadmill is resolved in the implied image of liquid mercury flowing from the kiln. The process of memory releases “felicity, naturalness, and faith” in the speaker, just as the kiln’s fires release the quicksilver. The phrase “felicity, naturalness, and faith” uses abstract terms that convey an emotional message intellectually rather than through sensuous specifics. In fact, readers know very little of the “you” in the poem, except that the speaker draws inward sustenance from the memory of the person.

Although the poem is not rhymed in a regular pattern, the third verse paragraph is based on couplets using near rhymes (repetition of vowels or consonants), such as the long i and er sounds in “piledrivers” and “spider,” the ci in “precision” and...

(The entire section is 544 words.)