The title of “Easter Morning” refers not only to the Easter-morning walk taken near the end of the poem but also to the spiritual and seasonal renewal that the phrase suggests. The “letter-perfect” Easter morning of the poem comes when the poem shifts from what seems to be a dead end of insurmountable incompletions to a scene in nature that suggests a renewal and rebirth.
The speaker of the poem is clearly the poet himself; A. R. Ammons usually writes in his own voice, and his repeated subject is nature and its processes. “Easter Morning” begins with a startling declaration: “I have a life that did not become/ that turned aside and stopped,/ astonished.” Ammons compares it to a “pregnancy” or a child “on my lap” that did not grow. It is the potential life that he might have lived, the path he might have taken, or perhaps the child he left behind when he grew up and began to think and act as an adult. He returns to the “grave” of this child that is within him and will die with him; the grave “will not heal.” The grave is an end, not a new beginning or an answer to his dilemma.
He returns to his “home country” and finds a similar “return” that also will not heal. He returns to visit all of his uncles and aunts, and his mother and father. The closeness between them is movingly expressed; they are as close as “burrowing under skin.” They are, however, “all in the graveyard/ assembled, done for, the world they/ used to wield, have trouble and joy/ in, gone.” The pattern repeats itself; there is another “return” and another grave, another finality. There seems to be no way out.
The next part of the poem brings child and parents together in a kind of summation and evaluation. “The child in me that could not become” was not ready for the others to go, to change. That child seems to wish for an impossible stasis of his world; it is attractive to imagine such a world, but to do so is to deny every movement and process of nature on which Ammons has written so precisely over the years. Now the failure to overcome the destruction of change makes his life and world seem filled with negatives. All that he has are “incompletions,” not “completions, not rondures the fullness/ has come into.” There are “knots of horror” that cannot be undone.
Suddenly, the poem changes direction. It is a “picture-book, letter-perfect/ Easter morning,” the “wind is tranquil: the brook/ works without flashing in an abundant/ tranquility.” Above all, the speaker observes “two great birds/ maybe eagles” in their flight, and he sees “something I had never seen before.” The eagles fly together for a while and one bird deviates from his route; the other one “seeming/ not to notice for a minute.” The wayward eagle then comes back and they are rejoined. The speaker explains the significance: “the having/ patterns and routes, breaking/ from them to explore other patterns or/ better ways to routes, and then the/ return.” This return, in contrast to that of the “child within me that died” and to the family in his home country, does heal. Routes can be both varied and returned to.
“Easter Morning” is written in free verse and is divided into verse paragraphs. It is true free verse; there is no syllabic pattern, and there are many run-on lines. The lines are usually short, and at times Ammons isolates one word as a line of verse. Ammons also ignores conventional...
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grammar; there are few periods, and sometimes a sentence runs over a whole verse paragraph. He tends to use the colon as a way of separating sections, ignoring other conventions of punctuation. There is considerable repetition, especially of key words such as “return.” The verse paragraphs are divided into separate parts, and the poem itself is also clearly divided into three parts. There is a section on the child who died, a section on the speaker’s return to his “home country,” and the climactic appearance of the eagles on Easter morning.
The most important device in the poem is the pattern of imagery. The first and second parts of the poem are filled with such negative images as the “stump/ of a child,” the “grave,” “knots,” “incompletions.” Even nature seems dead. The reader sees the barrenness of the air and the “flash high-burn/ momentary structure of ash.” In contrast, there are images of tranquillity in the “wind,” the “brook/ works,” and “the birds are lively with voice.” There is also the closeness of the family, which is seen as “burrowing under skin,” but it is contrasted with the finality of “gone.”
Another important technique used by Ammons is paradox. A group of paradoxes mirrors the incompletions he has found and cannot overcome. He cannot leave this place, which is “the dearest and the worst,” “nearest to life which is/ life lost”; here he must “stand and fail.” Ammons does not show how these paradoxes can be resolved, but he does provide an alternative to them with the eagles at the end of the poem.
The most important symbolic aspect of the poem is the two eagles. Their flight, which breaks from the established route, manages to recover and return successfully, something neither the child nor the family in the “home country” could do. Nature clearly shows Ammons a way out of the “incompletions.” The natural images of the last part of the poem support the dazzling return and rejoining of the two eagles. It is as “permanent in its descriptions/ as the ripples round the brook’s/ ripplestone: fresh as this particular/ flood of burn breaking across us now/ from the sun.” The permanence of nature seems to be an answer to the human dilemmas the poet failed to overcome earlier. It is seen as a visible annual renewal; it is never incomplete or exhausted, and it is constantly changing.