Historical Context


Warren does not specify any year or even a decade in which "Lake" takes place, nor is any particular region or state identified. The place is insignificant, but readers may make a careful, and educated, assumption about the time period. This poem is probably inspired by the author's awareness of her mother's deteriorating mental faculties due to dementia, which some critical accounts suggest accompanied the despondency and melancholy that Eleanor Clark sank into after Robert Penn Warren's death in 1989. Clark died in 1996. Given these facts and suggestions, it is safe to consider the time frame for "Lake" as the early to mid-1990s; its composition time may be the same or a few years later.

By the end of the twentieth century, great strides had been made in studying various types of dementia, particularly Alzheimer's after the former president Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with the disease in 1994. Ironically, the increased number of older people suffering from these mental ailments is commonly credited to the fact that humans are living longer. In general, dementia is a progressive brain dysfunction that leads to an increasing restriction of daily activities. A slow destruction of nerve cells in the brain causes the victim to lose the ability to function normally and to communicate thoughts and feelings effectively. Typical symptoms include forgetfulness, difficulties performing familiar activities, language problems, impaired judgment, and problems with abstract thinking.

Although data on the frequency of dementia have been more closely studied in recent years, there is no indication that the illness occurs any more or less often than in the past, when not as much attention was afforded it. In general, statistics show that its frequency increases with age, with about 2 percent of people age...

(The entire section is 753 words.)