Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473

It is interesting that while Marina is older and more experienced than the young Kenneth of the poem, he now realizes that through her he was able to gain access to childish wonder, which transferred itself to poetry. The poem ends with the poet calling his time with Marina his “Renaissance,” “when I had you to write to, when I could see you/ And it could change.” The suggestion of these lines is one familiar to readers of William Wordsworth and other Romantic poets, that poetry is a function of “childlike” perceptions—that as people grow into adults and become familiar with the world, they lose the magic of youthful sight. “The things which I have seen I now can see no more,” wrote Wordsworth in “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” Koch himself devoted two books (Wishes, Lies, and Dreams, 1970, and Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? 1973) and much of his teaching career to teaching poetry to children. “Renaissance” means, literally, “rebirth.” Now, the poet laments, the ability to perceive afresh in verse is no longer second nature to him. That the time is gone when an undefined “it” “could change” indicates that life for the poet has become less surprising, more domesticated and routine, and that consequently to write poetry—the type of poetry Koch once wrote, which called routine its enemy—is now a struggle.

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Perhaps this situation helps explain the variety of line lengths, styles, and approaches employed in “To Marina”: The poem is perhaps an energetic attempt to recoup some of that which has been lost. Alternatively, if like the years themselves this ability has been lost forever, it may be an attempt to call upon artificial means to reproduce something that once came more naturally. This interpretation adds depth to the pain of reflection upon the poet’s lost love: He has lost not only youth, not only the beauty of his beloved, not only the unexpectedness of her character and the insights it gave him, but his very self, his occupation. It can still get him from place to place, but without the same joy and ease, as when normal human locomotion is replaced by movement in a motorized wheelchair.

If this is the state of the despairing mind of the poet at the end of his meditation, it discounts neither the excitement he once felt at love and poetry nor the ways in which “To Marina” succeeds as poetry. It can serve as both an introduction to Koch’s work—introducing the reader to themes and devices at work throughout Koch’s poems—and, on its own, as a meditation on a poet’s lost muse. While writing would seem to be an individualistic occupation, Koch’s remembrance of his muse makes clear that no writer ever achieves greatness entirely alone.

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