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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Perhaps the central irony in this poem is that it is written in free verse, an open poetic form that does not rely upon traditional rhyme schemes or regular metrical patterns. It is ironic considering the title and the subject of the poem: “Locks.” A lock is a kind of limiting device, something that bars the access to something else, such as a room. Similarly, strict adherence to form can be a kind of limitation for a poet, and early experimenters with free verse, such as Walt Whitman in America and Charles Baudelaire in France, consciously rebelled against the kinds of fixed forms and a slavish devotion to rhyme and meter that they viewed as limiting to the possibilities of poetic expression. There is, then, a kind of humor in the fact that Koch should write a hymn of praise to locks and use the least “locked” form, free verse, in which to do it.

To say that the poem is written in free verse, however, is not to say that Koch ignores the question of meter altogether. Koch employs the most traditional metrical line in English poetry in the poem’s first line: “These locks on doors have brought me happiness” is written in iambic pentameter. The first line, however, is the only one written in such a formal, regular meter. It is almost as if, having expressed his “happiness,” the narrator feels the kind of freedom from restraint that allows him to experiment more boldly with meter.

The meter of the remainder of the poem is not...

(The entire section is 483 words.)