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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Just as the form of “Laguna Blues” is derived from an imitation of the blues, discussion of its subject matter should begin there as well. Blues traditionally are songs of heartache and sorrow, often providing a catharsis for both singer and listener. Likewise, this poem seems to describe the poet’s angst. Something is bothering the poet, but the source of this angst is never clearly stated. In fact, the more of the poem that is revealed, the more vague the poet becomes about whatever it is that bothers him all the time.

With so little direct clarification, that angst seems partly derived from the poem’s setting. In the town of Laguna Beach, the poet is at the edge of the country, in a place of relative warmth, where crows can glide on ocean breezes. Yet “the edge of the world” also suggests a point from which he can go no farther. The poet’s effort has reached a limit, and anything beyond this point must be guessed at or left unknown.

Because the poet is writing on a Saturday afternoon, he is also at the end, or “edge,” of the week and may symbolically have reached the end of his ability to work. The pages ruffled in the breeze are white and perhaps contain little writing. Therefore, the scene he is describing may be an attempt and ultimate inability to capture whatever is “off-key in my mind.” Even if he has been able to capture this feeling on the pages that blow “on what I have had to say,” the poet’s voice feels more comfortable describing his creative activity in both dance and song.

Similarly, his gaze gradually turns away from the pages he is writing on toward the flora and fauna around him. The crows and the breeze are the only things moving, as a stupor has fallen over the castor beans and pepper plants. Even as the poet looks elsewhere for answers, there is little that surrenders any meaning: The crows, austere scavengers, resemble “black pages that lift and fall,” symbolizing any attempt to read or understand them. The plants sleep in the midday heat, suggesting that the poet too is ready to sleep the afternoon away, having accomplished little.

The single line that may give insight into the source of the poet’s angst comes early in the poem: “Dust threads, cut loose from the heart, float up and fall.” The poem may indeed be describing a heart that has been broken, and the poet finds opportunity in those items around him—such as the motes drifting in the sunlight—to describe whatever is causing him pain. However, with no specific mention of a lover, the reader cannot be sure that the poem is about specific heartache, as many blues songs are. What remains is the general angst that blues inspire, as they are songs born of an oppressed race. The fragmented heart threads “float up and fall.”

The poet’s expectations at the...

(The entire section is 760 words.)