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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Poets and Self-Doubt

This poem deals, in large part, with what it means to become a poet and how to contend with the self-doubt that often plagues creative individuals. The speaker of the poem appears to be a poet, someone who has chosen to make writing poetry his life's work—possibly Mark Strand himself—and he constantly raises questions about his relevance, whether or not his work will matter in the world, or if he will be remembered for his poetry after he dies. 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?

Part of becoming a poet is recognizing one's mortality and coming to terms with the consequences of death. For this reason, the speaker asks if—once he is dead and gone—he will learn that the "songs" he wrote (referring to his poems) are lost, or if they will continue to live on after him.

Mortality

Because humans are mortal, then people are forever saying goodbye, even if they don't realize it in the moment. Strand writes in part sixteen that "all is farewell." People say goodbye over and over, even if they do not feel sad, even if they pretend that it is not the case; even though people may hate the knowledge of it, they say "farewell" again and again, "no matter what." People say farewell to friends and places and occasions, of versions of themselves, and it is up to poets to turn each of these reasons to mourn into a reason to celebrate.

Being Remembered

In the end, happily, it does seem as though it is possible for the poet to be remembered, to make a difference, to have an impact on the world. The speaker says,

I looked away to the hills
Above the river, where the golden lights of sunset
And sunrise are one and the same, and saw something flying
Back and forth, fluttering its wings.
Then it stopped in midair.
It was an angel, one of the good ones, about to sing.

He has used the "song" as a metaphor for poetry prior to this, and so this passage can be interpreted as his figurative sighting of another poet, one who is deceased, who returns to find that they have not been forgotten. The other poet is now an angel, as the speaker hopes to be, and a "good one"—a powerful writer who has had a lasting impact—offering hope that the speaker might yet be remembered beyond death.

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