At Luca Signorelli's Resurrection of the Body

by Jorie Graham
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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 421

“At Luca Signorelli’s Resurrection of the Body” is a poem that contemplates the relationship between body and mind. At what point, the poem asks of its readers, subject, and speaker, can the work of the mind transcend the body, or is the mind permanently fixed to the body? There is...

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“At Luca Signorelli’s Resurrection of the Body” is a poem that contemplates the relationship between body and mind. At what point, the poem asks of its readers, subject, and speaker, can the work of the mind transcend the body, or is the mind permanently fixed to the body? There is a paradox in this relationship in Graham’s poem. Signorelli, who painted bodies of exquisite precision and beauty, who understood the physical nature of the body as well as anyone of his time, found himself plagued by doubt upon the death of his son and could not understand his son’s death until he explored every cavern of his corpse.

Graham’s attempt to understand how Signorelli graduates from the “symbolic/ to the beautiful” causes her to ask, “How far is true?” Her poem does not answer this question definitively. For Signorelli, truth was found by an exploration deep inside the body. For Graham, truth is less easily defined. The present-tense lyric moment of this poem is permanently altered by the experience of viewing the frescoes when she looks out and finds Orvieto of 1500. After this experience, Graham is unable to recognize Orvieto in the present; she can only understand it through the artifice of the past. As for the question of truth, there is no definitive truth, only a multiplicity of particulars that swirl around in the poet’s mind like leaves rising in the wind. The beauty of such experience is unlike the confident assertion at the end of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/ ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Unlike Keats’s assurance that truth is beauty, Graham is unable to offer a definitive answer. Graham’s truth is unstable and mutable; it is difficult to understand because it is constantly shaped by experience.

In an interview, Graham speaks of her poems as “exploded instants,” moments in which sequential and lyrical moments in time move the poem along. This method allows her to capture the immediacy and timing of sequential instants in a way that mirrors the processes of thought. Instead of using narrative progression, Graham’s poems are organized more impressionistically. They are composed of haikulike moments that accumulate musically instead of logically. This strategy allows Graham to incorporate moments of doubt, questioning, and uncertainty into her work. These moments, because they allow readers to understand the processes of thought in their full complexity, are the distinct achievement of Graham’s poetry.

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