Last Updated September 6, 2023.
The speaker of the poem, who may be an autobiographical representation of Strand himself, compares poets to angels and describes the verses they create as "songs," ascribing a holiness or a divinity to the choice to devote one's life to the art of poetry. The poet must go through so much—alienation, reconciliation, exploration—in order to approach literary greatness. The speaker asks,
How can I sing when I haven't the heart, or the hope
That something of paradise persists in my song[?]
In other words, it is especially challenging—and requires a great deal of fortitude and courage—for a poet to "sing" when he doubts himself and lacks the hope that his verses will touch "paradise" (another word choice that calls to mind the idea of a heaven or some kind of immortality—which is especially salient since the speaker-poet seems to hope that his poems will propel him to a kind of immortality as a result of the impact that they have on the world). Worse than feeling so vulnerable, however, is the more fearful specter of being irrelevant. He continues,
And after I go, as I must,
[. . .] will I have proved
That I live against time, that the silk of the songs
I sang is not lost? Or will I have proved
[. . .] that whatever I sing is a blank?
This idea of living "against time," of achieving something like a divine immortality or ability to continue on even after the life of his body has ended, seems to occupy the speaker throughout the entirety of the poem. His greatest fear seems, in fact, to be the possibility that his "songs" will be a "blank," that he will die and disappear from the earth without having achieved paradise—which, in this case, is being a good enough poet to be remembered.
In the end, the speaker has is given to hope that his dreams of being remembered might come true. He is surrounded by faces he thinks he knows, though they "tucked / Their heads under their wings." It is possible, then, to achieve the immortality about which he dreams.
Back and forth, fluttering its wings.
Then it stopped in midair.
It was an angel, one of the good ones, about to sing.
Thus, it is possible to capture paradise in one's verse, to roll one's pain, one's past, one's doubts, and one's fears into texts that manage to convey something vital and true, something that gives the poet immortality and a sense of divinity.