The Poem

David Ignatow’s “I’m Here” qualifies as an Armageddon poem, a poem of utter destruction, presumably resulting from nuclear holocaust. A forewarning broadcasts the onset of this dire event: “The radio said, Go to your shelters.” However, this message is delivered in such a low voice that the unnamed participants fail to heed it. They do not want to heed it; they do not want to face the reality that the end may be near. Standing paralyzed before the set, they are powerless to act and can take no steps to delay the inevitable.

The blast erupts with colorful drama. They (the “we” in the poem) watch as it colors the horizon, knowing that they are about to be killed. They cannot embrace the reality of their encroaching nonexistence. In the first stanza, the participants continue to be physical realities, people with faces, bodies, bones, flesh. In the following stanza, however, they begin as physical entities but soon lose their corporeal identities. In the poem’s most visual passage, they run, having their bodies drop away as they proceed, attempting futilely to beat the odds.

They gradually become parts of nature, the faceless, nonhuman nature that constitutes much of the physical world: “We could be the wind rushing/ through the trees or the stars moving out/ to the perimeter.” In the great chaos unleashed by the detonation of a powerful destructive force, identities disappear as the physical bodies vanish, melt down into...

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Forms and Devices

The four stanzas of “I’m Here” build gradually. They contain seven, eight, ten, and fifteen lines, respectively. In the revised version printed in New and Collected Poems, 1970-1985 (1986), however, the last stanza is sonnet-length, fourteen lines. Other small changes occur in this later version.

The poem is written in blank verse, most of its lines iambic, most in pentameter with a few in hexameter, both of which resemble the rhythms of human speech. Although none of its lines rhymes, Ignatow in the first stanza engages in subtle wordplay. Line 2 reads in part “that we stood there,” and the following line ends with “wanting to understand.” One might find a suggestion of wordplay in the correlation between “stood” and “understand,” especially after reading to the end of that stanza, where “still unable to realize” is followed by “being killed, for real.” If, indeed, the poet consciously employs this technique, he abandons it as the poem becomes increasingly philosophical.

Beginning as a physical entity, the speaker loses his physicality by the last stanza and becomes invisible. In the final lines of the early version of the poem, Ignatow writes, “Then I’ll understand that all is well/ for the human and leave,/ content.” In the later version, however, the poet consolidates the last two lines into one that reads, “for the human to vanish, content.” “Vanish” is a more decisive word in this...

(The entire section is 434 words.)