Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 456

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On one level, “To Go to Lvov” seems intended to call up a childhood home that is now lost to the speaker. Although it is cast in the form of directions for going to Lvov, the speaker’s uncertainty about whether Lvov even exists, along with the dreamlike refrain that asserts the wealth of the city (“too much of Lvov”), seems more intended to invite the reader into the dream than to instruct the reader about going to a real place. The illogicality of dreams allows the speaker to assert things that do not make sense on the literal level. Thus he can say “joy hovered/ everywhere, in hallways and in coffee mills/in blue/ teapots, in starch.” The surreal sense of dreams is particularly active as the poem moves toward its end. The scissors and other sharp implements (penknives and razor blades) that first cut away “too much of Lvov” next seem to cut the very inhabitants away from each other as surely as death.

In line 76, as the speaker pictures Lvov’s people saying good-bye to each other, the separation asserts that it is indeed death that does the cutting: “I won’t see you anymore, so much death/ awaits you.” That death may refer to Lvov’s troubled political history, but in a more general way it can easily refer to any childhood home and the deaths of family and friends that inevitably occur as the years pass, separating the one who was once a child in the place from the people and events of childhood. Line 78 links Lvov to Jerusalem: “Why must every city/ become Jerusalem and every man a Jew?” the speaker asks, suggesting that Lvov (and by extension every lost home) is like Jerusalem to the Jews, an object of love and longing, a spiritual home even if the exile has never been there physically.

Throughout the poem, the speaker has directed the reader to pack a suitcase hurriedly and go to Lvov. In the last five lines, just after suggesting that Lvov is as unattainable as Jerusalem, the speaker uses words that recall the poem’s opening lines in urging the reader to “go breathlessto Lvov, after all/ it exists.” On this new level, the uncertainty about Lvov disappears, and the speaker uses one more botanical reference to describe Lvov: “quiet and pure as/ a peach.” The last line asserts what the reader has come to assume about Lvov. In saying “It is everywhere,” the speaker suggests that the city can take on the character of anyone’s childhood home, a place that might be both lost and always present, always approachable through memory that stores the detail that the speaker has offered in this dream journey to Lvov.