The Poem

“Curriculum Vitae” is a short lyric in two stanzas. It is written in verse that is not rhymed, but which uses the number of syllables in a line to organize the poem. The title means “course of life” in Latin. It refers to the brief biographical account that people (particularly academics) usually include when applying for jobs or other positions. In this poem, the phrase does not refer to an ordinary vocation: It refers to the tasks and experiences that go along with the vocation of being a poet. The title is partially ironic. When one normally hears this phrase, one expects a list of previous occupations or achievements. Instead, the poet presents a stark yet highly vivid picture of the basic texture of his daily life.

As the poem is about the life of a poet, the speaker of the poem is probably Samuel Menashe himself. The poem opens with the image of a “Scribe out of work.” It is the poet himself, whom the reader assumes is not employed in a conventional, wage-earning job. This, though, is not the only meaning here. In the second and third lines, it is revealed that the poet is “At a loss for words/ Not his to begin with.” The truer meaning of being out of work has to do with the momentary lapse in his poetic inspiration. The poet cannot think of what words he should write.

The first stanza concludes with a scene of the poet standing at his window, waiting for the inspiration to come so that he can write more poetry. By this...

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Forms and Devices

Considering that it is so short and uses such simple language, “Curriculum Vitae” is a very difficult poem. The language is so compressed that it is left up to the reader to supply the connections the author does not provide. There are no words wasted; each one is crucially important.

Rhyme is not the central organizing feature of the poem. In the second stanza, there are three end words that rhyme. These words are “stairs,” “lair,” and “spare.” This rhyme helps build up the intensity toward the self-knowledge won at the poem’s close. Yet the poem’s tight organization comes mainly from word choice. Most of the words in the poem are of one syllable, with a small few being of two. The brevity of the words fortifies the minimal, pared-down atmosphere of the poem. The language, like the poet’s emotions, is stripped to the essential. The number of syllables in each line of the poem is also important. They are never fewer than four nor more than six. The syllable lengths provide a backbone for the poem, rigorously reining the plight of the poet in a network of form. This taut intensity makes the long, six-syllable lines peaks of energy and aspiration. It also makes lines such as “Alone in my lair” all the more affecting because the sense of loneliness in the poem is expressed by the loneliness of the few short words that make up the line.

The language used in “Curriculum Vitae” at first seems disorienting. Many of the...

(The entire section is 502 words.)