The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Charles Wright’s “Homage to Paul Cézanne” consists of eight unnumbered sections of sixteen lines each that examine the nature of the relationship between the living and the dead. “Homage to Paul Cézanne” opens Charles Wright’s fifth volume of poems, The Southern Cross, which inaugurates a departure in both technique and outlook from his earlier volumes. It stands on the threshold of the poet’s mature style, and, as the poet himself acknowledged, “Homage to Paul Cézanne” holds a special place in his entire work.

The poem begins by describing the dead and what they are wearing at night, when their presence is both visible and ascertainable. Although some specific features are singled out, the speaker’s voice (presumably the poet’s) keeps reassuring the reader that the dead are “like us,” in many respects, and act accordingly: “Like us,/ They keep on saying the same thing, trying to get it right.” After putting together some familiar and some less familiar traits, in the second section their presence is further qualified by pointing out some rules or even laws underlying their behavior: “Each year the dead grow less dead, and nudge/ Close to the surface of all things.”

The third section of the poem deals with the degree of integration with nature and the landscape, which the dead have succeeded in achieving in order to communicate both their story and their utmost desire—never to be forgotten:...

(The entire section is 517 words.)