Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Ransom states the major theme by his choice of title: equilibrium, or balance. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines “equilibrist” as “one who balancesin unnatural positions and hazardous movements.” Intimations of the calm and serenity of balance are replaced by awareness of awkwardness and imminent imbalance; there is implicit threat in this position. The would-be lovers do not display grace and ease, but rather tension and discomfort. Equilibrium is “torture” for them; they are “rigid” and “painful.”

Ransom has become something of an equilibrist himself in creating this poem. His choice of diction at times seems awkward—words such as “orifice,” “importunate,” “saeculum,” and “infatuate.” Ransom was a disciplined stylist who worked with difficult forms, not sparing himself. Here, form mirrors meaning. He treads precariously in places. It may be a difficult, tortured form, but the result is admirable. This is not a poem of simple choices; the poet refuses to advocate either the romantic vision of pursuing the heart’s passion or the closing off of all feeling and desire through intellect. There is a bitter irony displayed: In attempting to serve honor and deny lust, the lovers lose all. They do not give in to carnal desire, yet the desire remains.

In the first three stanzas Ransom creates a romantic, sensual image: the beautiful woman desired by the man. He uses images of nature, such as...

(The entire section is 494 words.)