The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Locks,” a love poem, is an extended list of locks that have brought the narrator “happiness.” The twenty-eight-line poem, written in free verse, is actually one sentence long; the sixteen different locks mentioned in this catalog are separated by semicolons. The lines are lengthy, nearly half of them spilling over to a second or third line of indented text.

The single-stanza poem’s first line is “These locks on doors have brought me happiness,” and the list commences. The variety of locks suggests the narrator’s full, vigorous life—a life replete with experience. The first happily remembered lock, for instance, is “The lock on the door of the sewing machine in the living room/ Of a tiny hut in which I was living with a mad seamstress.” The next is “The lock on the filling station one night when I was drunk/ And had the idea of enjoying a nip of petroleum.”

It quickly becomes clear that these locks are not only literal—although some do seem more literal than others—but also metaphoric or symbolic. “The lock inside the nose of the contemporary composer who was playing the piano and would have ruined his concert by sneezing, while I was turning pages,” for instance, cannot be a hardware-store variety lock any more than “The lock in my hat when I saw her and which kept me from tipping it,/ Which she would not have liked, because she believed that naturalness was the most friendly” can.


(The entire section is 471 words.)