Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479

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The central theme of “One Bone to Another” is as old as poetry itself: the apparent futility of human existence. Popa’s approach to this problem is unique, however, in that he examines it in cosmic terms. He does not speak for the world; rather, it speaks through him, and his ability to see things from its point of view is remarkable. He becomes the vehicle of communication for those other mysterious worlds that exist undetected and interact in the ongoing drama of cosmic life.

A second, more subtle theme that Popa touches on here is the place and function of the psychic realm in daily life. In “Underground,” the fourth poem in the cycle, Popa writes, “Muscle of darkness muscle of flesh/ It comes to the same thing.” This seems to indicate that conscious life—that is, the life of the “flesh”—tends to blind people, to keep them in “darkness” about the true nature of existence. Further, it implies that the meaning which people seek to fulfill their lives can be found only by awareness and investigation of the subconscious world of the psyche, for it is the true foundation of being. Conscious life, with all of its demands, tends to obscure inner, psychic life, so that, inevitably, a person is “swallowed” by it. This preoccupation with the psychic plane and the need to maintain contact with it is a recurring theme in much of Popa’s work. As Charles Simi remarks in the introduction to his translation of Popa’s The Little Box (1970), Popa seeks to penetrate “the truth that lies behind the forms and conventions.”

This cycle reflects another level of meaning. It must be remembered that this text was written during the post-World War II period and, like so much of Popa’s early work, reflects the anguish and turmoil of the time. The tone of frustration and despair that characterizes the poems parallels the emotional climate of postwar Europe. The goals to which the personae aspire—freedom, understanding, and, ultimately, survival—mirror those of many Europeans of that era. In addition, the personae exhibit characteristics which would appear to optimize the possibility of achieving those goals. They are tough, alert, and cynical—admirable qualities in any period, but essential in order to overcome the tragic, tumultuous aftermath of the war.

If there is an ultimate message in Popa’s poetry, it is that if one wants to understand and preserve humankind, one must attend to the cosmos of which it is an integral part. One must listen to the cosmos as Popa does and try to see things from its perspective, for only by maintaining contact with it can one understand one’s place in it. One’s inner psychic life is the instrument through which one can make that contact; it is the “telephone” which enables participation in the collective cosmic conversation.