Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 438

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From the Rising of the Sun is a meditation on the role of the poet and his doubts about the power of his vocation. It is as if he distrusts his facility with words and is resentful of the poetic flowering of language he finds difficult to control. In an interview, Miosz observed that he regards himself as a “medium” for poetry, “but a mistrustful one.”

As part 2 of the poem suggests, the poet’s first love is for nature, for the naturalist who can lose himself in the bounty of his environment—a cheerful contrast to the brooding, self-aware poet. Poetry requires memory, a recalling of often painful, destructive experiences, and an examination of nature itself, which destroys the boy’s innocence in its merciless exposure of the way nature’s creatures prey upon one another. The images of life consuming itself are what the poet can hardly bear and what make him call it “impossible.” Only by not dwelling on this aspect of life can he bear to go on.

The poet in From the Rising of the Sun is a displaced figure, not really at home in his California setting and unable to return home to the Lithuania he can only imagine as it once had been. He cannot purge himself of his experience so as to relive the past innocently; consequently, there is a bitter, harsh tone to many of the poet’s reflections. The compensating factor is that no element, either of the poet’s life or of human civilization, is truly lost. It is all potentially, at least, reclaimable—a concept the poet develops in his use of the term apokatastasis—first promulgated by Origen (185?-254?), a father of the Christian church who believed it was possible to restore or reinstate the world as it was before Original Sin. In the poem, this is not so much a religious notion as it is a metaphysical conceit—that there might come an end of time that could serve as a redemption of time, a recovery of the past in a cleansed form.

The idea of redemption is not endorsed by the poem. Indeed, at the end the poet convicts himself of a lack of faith, again emphasizing his ambivalence about his poetic vocation. Poetry has provided him with a conception of a better world, yet he finds it difficult to rise to the occasion of that conception, and he imagines that even should this restored world come to pass, he would be judged wanting, convicted for his despair, rejected because, finally, he could not understand the very world that would fulfill his dreams.