The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Impalpabilities” is a short lyric in one stanza of twenty-two lines, written in free verse. It does not have a traditional lyric subject, such as a person, place, or object. Instead, it is concerned with the subtleties involved in the way what is outside oneself is perceived.

The poem is written in an impersonal mode. It uses the first-person plural “we” in order to include the reader in the statements it makes about the nature of experience. By describing shades and tones of his perceptions in as detailed a manner as possible, the poet hopes to remind readers of moments in their own experience that are similar to his.

The poem starts by directing readers to the “things we must include/ because we do not understand them.” It is the impalpable things that cannot immediately be grasped and molded into shape by humanity that will concern the poet. Not being able to understand impalpable things with the ease and readiness with which one knows the palpable, does not mean that the impalpable can merely be passed by. That which is beyond one’s knowledge is still encountered, and its mystery is tempting rather than daunting.

The impalpabilities, as one would expect, never take final form in the poem, but the poet finds suggestions of them in various half-realized events or objects. In the fifth line of the poem, the impalpabilities linger in the “marine dark” like an uncanny sea creature. In the nine lines that...

(The entire section is 455 words.)