The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Albert Goldbarth’s “How the World Works: An Essay” is a blend of vivid narration, verse essay, and meditation about the interrelation of the various cycles and circles of life, from the very large to the very small. Its form—including variation between unrhymed lines as long as eighteen or as short as ten syllables—incorporates the contrast or cycling within the poem between macrocosm, the very large, and microcosm, the very small. While also considering small incidents in the speaker’s life, the poem, a small thing in the universe, considers the grand cycles of life and death, the cosmological development and interconnectedness of life on earth, meteorology, and societal and global ecologies.

Further, its seven stanzas, with their fourteen lines each (based on a multiple of seven), symbolize the foundation of calendar time, the week, and the biblical account of creation; likewise, the enjambment of the last line of the first six stanzas to the first line of the next stanza mimics the poem’s subjects of time’s forward momentum and the interconnectedness of things.

As with an essay, a term used in other titles of Goldbarth’s poems and reflecting his several books of essays, the poem’s title and first stanza constitute an introduction, complete with thesis sentence, of the kind to be found in an essay’s first paragraph; the speaker, indeed, uses the term “topic,” saying in his first words after the title, “That’s my...

(The entire section is 553 words.)