(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“In Memory of My Feelings” is a surreal poem that attempts to find an authentic self amid the many selves that can be discerned within the speaker. The poet seems to relate these selves to the different feelings he has. For example, in the first section of the poem, he identifies both a “transparent” self that “carries me quietly, like a gondola, through the streets” as well as a number of “naked selves” that use “pistols” to protect themselves. The division continues as “One of me rushes/ to window #13 and one of me raises his whip. . . .” The speaker is also being hunted by some malign force.

The only unifying element in these contrasting selves is “love of the serpent.” At first, this seems to be a phallic symbol; in the context of the poem, however, the serpent image operates as a symbol for the artist self, which the poet must acknowledge and privilege over all of his other selves. At the end of the poem’s first section, the “transparent selves” are together “like vipers in a pail, writhing and hissing/ without panic, with a certain justice of response. . . .” The section’s final line, in which “the aquiline serpent comes to resemble the Medusa,” unites the various selves by the central symbol of the serpent. The Medusa, therefore, is not a threatening but a positive image.

The second section is a regressive movement dominated by references to those who have sacrificed their lives for the poet....

(The entire section is 599 words.)