Themes

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Nature
The epigraph of “Duration,” taken from the I Ching, shows the emphasis on nature that is to follow. The significance of thunder and wind, of all things, is not made clear, but the fact that they are here together tells readers that Paz intends to explore what they have to do with one another. Throughout the poem, natural elements, especially those related to weather, are used to raise questions about human relationships by showing readers parallels to human interaction. Rain, wind, thunder, and snow are all larger-than-life events that occur in the sky, but here they speak to the earth, and to humanity.

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The poem not only uses nature to represent human action; it also uses it to show human inaction as well. Forests are used to stand for human passivity, receiving the messages from the skies and processing them. In section II the forest is directly compared to a person who is sleeping (the first line mentions “the forest in its bed,” and the following three discuss “you in your bed”); in section IV, the woods are said to “understand” what the thunder has to say. Being stationary, the trees represent the “yellow earth” that is mentioned in the second line, positioned in contrast with the activity of the black, starless sky.

Synchronicity
Synchronicity is a term coined by the Swedish psychologist Carl Jung. It refers to the explanation that certain events that happen simultaneously are assumed to share some meaningful relationship, similar to cause and effect but less clearly ruled. In “Duration,” Paz points out events that happen near each other in time, and the simple fact that he focuses readers’ attention on them makes them seem to follow some sense of order that goes beyond the common scientific explanations for them. The crowing of the rooster is represented as more than a reaction to dawn; it is presented as a cause of dawn. The similarity between a dormant forest and a sleeping person is presented as if the two have a connection that is deeper than simple resemblance. Even the detached call-and-response of the last stanza has, for instance, a “canoe of lightning” that is said to be an answer to “water-language.” These questions and answers seem to have a sort of indefinable synchronicity because the poet has decided to present these unrelated ideas together. To some extent, all symbolic poetry can be thought to deal in synchronicity because it presents relationships that the logical mind cannot explain but that the unconscious recognizes. This poem, though, brings this feeling out to the surface, making readers accept odd similarities as more than coincidence.

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