Rosanna Warren's poem "Lake" appears in her collection Departure, published in 2003. As the title suggests, the overall theme of this collection is one of parting ways—whether through intended separation, a relationship breakup, a slow sinking into dementia, or death. Several poems in the book were inspired by the mental illness and eventual death of Warren's mother, and several others focus on the strains of marriage and the difficulties of remaining in love. Regardless of the subject, however, most of the poems, including "Lake," are underlined with messages of farewell and exit.
"Lake" is a twenty-six-line, one-sentence work, heavily dependent on the use of water as a metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech that expresses an idea through the image of another object. That is, metaphors help explain thoughts or feelings by comparing them to something else, often something physical. In this poem, the speaker uses the touch and motion of water in a lake to describe the need for comfort in a time of sorrow. The water's gentle movement is like a caress to the person standing in it, but having to leave it and go back to the shore symbolizes the person's acknowledgment that temporary comfort must be abandoned in order to face the reality of sadness and loss.
"Lake" is a relatively brief but powerful poem whose plain language and clear imagery disguise the significance of its theme. It is at once simple and striking—a testament, perhaps, to Warren's ability to communicate a complex message with moving clarity.
A note about the line breaks in the poem: although some may consider the words "would be withdrawn" (in line 10) to be simply a continuation of line 9, which is too long to stretch across the allowed width of the page, the short phrases on the right margin of the rest of the poem appear to be significant enough to stand on their own. Their placement on the right side of the page is reason enough to consider them separately, but their content, too, merits a closer look. As such, this entry discusses "Lake" as a twenty-six-line poem rather than as an eighteen-line poem.
A copy of the poem is also available at the Slate online magazine website at http://slate.msn.com/?id=2073776, where it was posted a year before Departure was published. Note, however, that the line breaks appear differently on the website than they do in the published book.
The first line of "Lake" introduces an ambiguous "you" as its subject, and this individual is addressed throughout the poem. It is worth considering the actual identity of "you," because poets often use this second-person pronoun in various and interesting ways. Sometimes there is a detail or a description within the work that identifies—or even names—the "you." At other times, "you" can refer to the audience in general, drawing readers themselves into the poem by seeming to speak directly to them. Still other poets use "you" to mean the speaker him- or herself. That is, "you" really means "I," but referring to oneself in the second person allows a distance—or a chance to examine a situation more objectively—that the first person does not afford. Which is the case in "Lake"?
The short answer is that we do not know. But Warren is noted as an autobiographical poet, so this "you" could be someone in her personal life: her mother, whose illness and death were the basis for several poems in Departure, or her husband, since this poem falls within the so-called marriage section of Departure. Another viable option is that "you" is "I," whether referring to a generic speaker or to Warren herself. After considerable analysis, the bottom line is still the same: who "you" is does not affect the overall tone or message of the poem. It is simply a noteworthy subject that adds a little intrigue to the work. In this first line, then, the subject is standing in a lake, water up to the thighs, and "green light"—the lake's reflection—appears to bounce off his or her skin.
The second line helps to...
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