The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Dream of the Unified Field” is a relatively long poem in free verse subdivided into seven sections that are further divided into twelve stanzas. It challenges conventional notions of organizational patterns of poetry while confronting the fallacy behind humankind’s desire to unify experience. This fallacy is implied in its title, a reference to Albert Einstein’s unsuccessful attempts to prove the theory of the unified field. The speaker (apparently Graham herself) attempts to yoke walking through a snowstorm to take a black leotard to her young daughter together with her own childhood experiences with ballet master Madame Sakaroff and finally with the initial contact of Christopher Columbus with the New World. As she weaves through the poem, she connects the immediate and personal with the distant and impersonal in ways that work naturally as well as in ways that she must force to work, thus reinforcing the impact of the title.

In the first section of the poem, as the speaker treks through the snow to carry the leotard to her daughter, she becomes caught in the “motion” of the snow—the patterns it creates in falling, the “arabesques” that it, like her daughter, performs. The transience of the snowflakes, “Gone as they hit the earth,” also strikes her as she moves through their motion, finding in their symbols a clue to her own meaning, her own existence.

Upon completion of her task, she is taken by the sight and sound of a “huge flock of starlings” coursing through the snow and finally alighting in ever-shifting patterns on a...

(The entire section is 645 words.)