Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

It is not surprising that the themes and meanings of a work as long and complicated as “A” cannot be distilled into a neat package. The meaning of “A” is really the meaning of life itself, whether or not there is a unity or unifying force by means of which the entire universe may be understood or into which it may be subsumed. The thematic structure of “A” is therefore correspondingly dense. A cursory (and very incomplete) list of the thematic material of “A” includes the music and life of J. S. Bach, birds, flowers, horses, labor, love, eyes (both the subjective “I” and the objective seeing “eye”), Zukofsky’s family, Spinoza, Aristotle, Paracelsus, Pythagoras, Karl Marx, leaves, light, and Shakespeare.

The creation of the twenty-four movements of “A” was designed by Zukofsky to occupy a lifetime of work and to be a commentary on the lifetime that was being occupied by the process of creating the poem. Zukofsky’s fascination with the linguistic possibilities of small and seemingly insignificant words such as pronouns is an attempt to extrapolate the universal from the microcosmic or the individual, and is influenced by the Cantos of Ezra Pound (1917-1970) and James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). The Pythagorean and Boethian concept of the harmony of the spheres (the tripartite categorization of actual musical harmony, the “harmony” among individual human beings, and the cosmic “harmony” linking everything in...

(The entire section is 619 words.)