Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 438

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The speaker’s opening imagery of the “weathering eddies” accumulating on the tiles of the Alhambra’s “courtyards and intimate tryst-rooms and policy chambers” conveys the focus in the poem, as in many other of Goldbarth’s poems, on the workings and networkings of the external or natural world, often including a scientific perspective and vocabulary; human artifacts, ranging from architecture and painting to music and poetry; the various spheres of love, whether in the family or romantic relationship; and society’s functioning. The poem shows that the world’s working is a combination of harmony and discord, of order and disorder. While the social order works for the speaker’s father in bribing the “copper,” inviting the boss to dinner and being sycophantic, and “shmoozing” the waitress for better service, it painfully fails for the son years later when attempting to recycle the same behavior. While the bull, the “ecoconnected” cattle egret, lice on the egret, and dungbugs exist in harmony, the Pimp Prince and butterfly fish have their colorful rivals, the speaker’s youthful love affair fails (though he has later gained important knowledge about connectedness in the romantic relationship), and the speaker’s father—who seems so “high” and demonstrative of “mastery” to the eight-year-old son—is simply one of the “counters/ in some global game, ‘Advantage,’ tycoons and brigadiers play.” Art, exemplified by the Alhambra, is both in harmony with nature, reflecting the weather’s arabesques, and in conflict with nature, exemplified by the “weathering eddies” attacking and eventually eroding its beautiful tiles.

Goldbarth’s poem is a virtuoso performance, from large structural connections and patterns to subtle metrical effects, such as the consonance on the s sound to convey the swish of the wind or water (lines 5-6) or the shortest lines of the poem—lines 56, 70, and 98—being used to convey things having smallness. Just as impressive are the poem’s several metaphors and similes, such as nature, represented by Lake Michigan, “unhoarding” the “clear blue afternoon” at “winter’s thinner end,” suggesting not only the miserly bitterness of Chicago winters but also connecting with the bribery of the “copper” in the same stanza, the riches of the Pimp Prince in the preceding stanza, and the implied motif of money’s role in the poem’s depiction of the world’s working. While the poem will repay study of Goldbarth’s skill in using any of the main components of poetry (even rhyme makes a brief appearance in one line), perhaps most notable is his adroit diction or word choice, which in its range and precision recall another modern American master, Wallace Stevens.