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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Much of the poem’s formal effects are embodied in its appearance on the page. This is a poem whose visual aspect is not only in the images within the poem but in the poem’s external shape. It is composed of short lines that are organized in groups of three apiece. In each group of three, the first line is fixed in the standard left-hand margin, while the next two lines each begin with a sharp indentation to the right. This form mirrors the subject matter of the poem, where the possibility of different perceptual shapes for different varieties of experience is acknowledged. The poet uses another device as a counterpoint to the formal organization of the lines. By varying the length of each line (from as short as only two syllables to as long as nine), he supports the poem’s assertion of the whirling patterns of experience.

The poem is recognizable as a product of modern free verse, yet its agenda is not as much to depict chaos or disorder as to show ideas of order existing where one ordinarily would not suspect them to be. The poem filters its impalpable content through a tightly organized network of form. The two parentheses that appear in the eleventh and nineteenth lines remind one of the author’s presence and display a layer of conscious awareness against the inchoate areas that the poem chronicles. The potential for chaos is also held in by the eloquence and reserve of the poet’s language. His language is exact while being austere and...

(The entire section is 530 words.)