Last Reviewed on May 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 405
This poem describes the process by which one tries to become a poet: the speaker describes all of the sacrifices and vulnerabilities one must endure, the reckoning with one's past and one's inevitable death, and the horrible fear that one's work will not be relevant or appreciated. The poem begins with the would-be poet leaving his home and his town; it seems that he must leave the comfort and familiarity of home behind in order to begin afresh.
"This is the life," he said, as he reached the first
Of many outer edges to the sea he sought, and he buttoned
His coat, and turned up his collar, and began to breathe.
It is liberating, this walking away—though he will have to return and come to terms with how his past has contributed to his sense of self someday—and though he must turn up his collar against the cold and wet, he finds that he can now breathe. The word "began" seems to imply that he could not breathe before, stifled by the familiarity of home.
The speaker goes on to say,
I am writing from a place you have never been,
Where the trains don't run, and planes
Don't land [. . .].
There is something special about this place, someplace that non-poets cannot comprehend. It seems to require sacrifice—there are things that must be given up—but something magical also happens here. The poets congregate and "everyone dreams of floating / Like angels in sweet-smelling habits," and they dream that they will someday leave behind the more mundane aspects of life and ascend to something higher through their work.
The speaker hopes that the same thing will happen to him. He asks,
And after I go, as I must,
And come back through the hourglass, 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 love
Is unbearable, that the views of the Lethe will never
Improve, that whatever I sing is a blank?
He is concerned that has he left everything behind and gone through all the painful work of becoming a poet only to find someday, when it is too late to change it, that his life's work has been irrelevant. However, he hopes that his poetry will prove immortal in a way that his body is not, and that he will not prove, in the end, to be "a blank."
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