The Poem

“Death’s Blue-Eyed Girl” is a short poem in accentual-syllabic meter. Its fourteen lines are divided into two stanzas. The first four-line stanza introduces the thematic question of the poem by way of two related similes; it also identifies the poem’s intended audience and establishes a meditative mood. The second stanza attempts to answer the question posed at the beginning of the poem: When does death become a real presence in life? This stanza is a meditation on death and one’s shifting perceptions of death and loss. The ideas in the poem are developed almost entirely through the use of metaphor.

The title of the poem recalls a line from E. E. Cummings’s poem “Buffalo Bill ’s.” That poem, which was published in 1923, is about the death of the speaker’s childhood hero (Buffalo Bill). In the final lines, the speaker personifies death in order to make sense of the loss of someone who seemed immortal. He asks, “and what i want to know is/ how do you like your blueeyed boy/ Mister Death.” In Linda Pastan’s poem, the blue-eyed girl refers to Elaine, someone close to the speaker, who has died. Pastan also personifies death at the end of the poem, turning it into a magician. The debt to E. E. Cummings is clear in both the specific language and the thematic concerns of Pastan’s poem.

The speaker in the poem is not a persona distinct from the poet, and the “you” addressed is a relative, spouse, or close friend. Yet the...

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Forms and Devices

At first glance, the poem may seem formless, but closer inspection reveals that it is written in accentual-syllabic meter. Each line has nine, ten, or eleven syllables, and four or five of the syllables are accented in every line. The meter is roughly dactylic tetrameter; variations in the pattern are frequent. Two of the variations are worth noting.

The first occurs in line 9 and is repeated in line 12. These lines are the two longest in the poem, each having eleven syllables. The thematic connection between the lines is emphasized by their shared syllable count. Line 9 states that death is, to the child, “a safety net.” Line 12 mentions that although Elaine seemed anchored to this life by the child on her hip who served as a kind of “ballast,” she was also “distracted with poems.” Although the connection is subtle, perhaps the reader is encouraged to see that poems are also a kind of safety net, a way that one might begin to understand death. Yet there is irony in this connection; death is not a safety net, and it is Elaine’s death that teaches the speaker this fact.

The second variation that is thematically important occurs in the last line. This line has only seven syllables. As the shortest line in the poem, it serves two purposes: It helps end the poem cleanly and decisively, and it reflects the idea of the poem. Death is also quick, decisive, and final. It is important to note that this is one of the few lines in the poem...

(The entire section is 563 words.)