Themes and Meanings

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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.

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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 beginning of the afternoon began with hope, but as the poem continues, he meets with frustration in the ability to say “whatever it is” that bothers him. All other objects in the poem also run the same path, as they rise and fall: The pages are lifted by the wind, only to fall back to the desk. The crows are borne in the air and later “glide down.” The garden’s plants, which likely stood tall in the morning’s coolness, droop in the sun. As he sits at “the edge of the world” and the end of the week, the poet has met the typical human frustration of high ideals ultimately unfulfilled.

All is not lost, however. The purpose of blues is to sing, even if that singing only celebrates the singer’s pain. The poet mentions that he is indeed “singing a little song” and “dancing a little dance”; therefore, if he has not achieved the goal of discovery that he intended to reach, he still has his small work of art.

Additionally, as this poem expresses the uncertainty that the poet finds himself in, he has effectively shown that something is still “off-key and unkind.” The intangible and unknowable thing that bothers him “all the time” still bothers him, and the poem successfully expresses that uncertainty. Thus, as with real singers of the blues, the poet has found that some sort of heartache may still be there, but he has a song, and in communicating that sorrow to another, he has made something of beauty and truth.

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