The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Gold and Black” is a short poem in free verse, its twelve lines divided into three stanzas. The title suggests color; its function is to show the color of the bees as well as the light images in the poem: the black night and the gold light. The first two stanzas are written in the first person. In the third stanza, the poem shifts to the third person, which adds a generality to its theme. There are times when a poet uses the first person to speak through a persona, as in a dramatic monologue, but here no distinction is implied between Michael Ondaatje the poet and the speaker of the poem. Yet, as Douglas Barbour writes in Michael Ondaatje (1993), “The ‘I’ that writes in these seemingly ‘confessional’ poems is purely inscribed, exists in each poem as a subject but alters his subjectivity from poem to poem.” The “I” of “Gold and Black” can be seen as a character rather than the poet himself. A lyrical poem is about a subject, contains little narrative content, and addresses the reader directly.

“Gold and Black” begins with a metaphor for a nightmare, something that readers can readily understand. Just as a nightmare comes at night and disturbs the sleeper, so do the bees in the poem “pluck my head away.” As the nightmare surrounds him, “Vague thousands drift” over him and “leave brain naked stark as liver.” The nightmare, portrayed with the image of the bees, removes integral parts of his identity and...

(The entire section is 510 words.)