“The Idea of Order at Key West” is a discursive poem reflecting upon the work of the imagination and the relationship between the real and the imagined worlds. The poem’s form is iambic pentameter with some irregular end rhymes. It begins with an unidentified woman singing beside the sea: “She sang beyond the genius of the sea.” “She” is the imagination, and her voice does not change the reality it represents: “The water never formed to mind or voice.” These two, then, woman and water, mind and world, are separate. Yet it would seem that reality, too, has some sort of guiding principle or spirit, a “genius.” Her song does not change or “form” reality, which has its own inhuman “cry.”
The second section of the poem reiterates and redefines the separation between the two: The water’s sound is reflected in her song, but “it was she and not the sea we heard.” She is singing in words; reality speaks its own language, that of “the grinding water and the gasping wind.”
She is the “maker,” and the sea is merely “a place by which she walked to sing.” The listeners ask, “Whose spirit is this?” They wish to know what, or who, this secret voice, the imagination that is at the center of human nature, is. The answer is that the voice is not merely reality, “the dark voice of the sea,” for if it were, the human listeners would not understand it; “it would have been deep air.” Nor is the sound only humans’ readings of reality, “her voice, and ours, among/ The...
(The entire section is 626 words.)