The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Idea of Order at Key West” is a meditative poem in a relaxed iambic pentameter. Its fifty-six lines are broken into groups of uneven length that define the major points of its argument. The poem examines the interaction between imagination and reality through the figure of a woman who sings beside the sea and whose voice neither violates the reality of the sea nor simply reproduces it. She is the creator or “maker,” not merely a mirror. She puts the sea’s “dark voice” into human words, drawing it into the realm of human experience: “When she sang, the sea/ Whatever self it had, became the self/ That was her song, for she was the maker.” Her song is not an exact reproduction of nature’s own utterances. If it were it would not be meaningful to the human listener, but “would have been the heaving speech of air.” Nor could it be simply her own voice; “it was more than that.” The woman’s voice is a translation of the natural into the human, which allows her listeners to perceive their world anew. It is her song of nature that heightens the listeners’ sense both of the world itself and of their uncertain position in it: “It was her voice that made/ The sky acutest at its vanishing.”

The listeners find that at the conclusion of her song, the world has been re-ordered for them: The lights in the fishing boats at the harbor have created a new arrangement of the natural. These lights have “mastered the night and portioned...

(The entire section is 473 words.)