The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Like many of Dana Gioia’s poems, “Guide to the Other Gallery” is highly structured and traditional. Composed of six iambic tetrameter quatrains, the poem is set as a dramatic monologue reminiscent of Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” both in its form and its surface subject, a guide showing artistic possessions to a visitor. Unlike in Browning’s poem, the guide is not revealing exceptional pieces of art but the castoffs, the broken, useless, decayed, and unidentifiable objects kept in a back room for some unexplained reason, possibly because they were either useful at one time or were a part of someone’s life (and therefore memory). Whatever the reason, in this museum “Nothing is ever thrown away.” That final line of the first stanza, and indeed the entire first stanza, sets up a central question that plagues the reader throughout the poem: Why does the gallery keep these obviously broken and irreparably damaged or decayed objects?

The poem begins with the guide, as a good docent would, listing the objects and telling why each has been consigned here. The objects he enumerates include the severed marble limbs of athletes and cherubim, butterflies carefully arranged in display cases, framed portraits of unknown people by unknown artists, books crumbling on shelves, empty bottles, and locks without keys. From the manner in which he discusses the contents of the room—“These butterflies,” “These portraits,” and “Here are the...

(The entire section is 471 words.)