The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“One Bone to Another” is a cycle of seven short poems. The title of the cycle establishes the mood and alludes to the personae of the poems, two bones that engage in an intimate dialogue about the human condition in their subterranean mise-en-scène. The titles of the individual poems indicate the setting and order of the events in the cycle. These events are depicted as occurring in the immediate present; and the bones express their reactions to them in the first-person plural or first-person singular. As the events unfold, each poem marks a shift in the mood of the bones, from smug independence and delight after being freed from their prison of flesh, to terror and helplessness at the realization that they must submit to the forces of human fate, and finally to bewilderment and despair when confronted with the inevitable transience of human existence.

The first poem, “Na poetku” (“At the Beginning”), expresses the bones’ relief and newfound sense of independence after freeing themselves from the “flesh”: “Now we will do what we will.” In the second poem, “Posle poetka” (“After the Beginning”), the bones gleefully begin to ponder the possibilities of their new existence; they will “make music,” and if any hungry dogs should come along, they plan to trick them: “Then we’ll stick in their throats/ And have fun.” This delight in the prospect of mischief turns to a delight in each other in the charmingly...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The cyclic form is a hallmark of Vasko Popa’s poetry. It enables the poet to maintain a free philosophical inquiry and thus promotes his artistic objective: the distillation of truth. As Ted Hughes writes in his introduction to Selected Poems (1969), “Each cycle creates the terms of a universe, which [Popa] then explores, more or less methodically, with the terms.” A central theme is presented, and the poems within the cycle explore various facets of that theme (although the number of poems varies, Popa evidences a partiality for the number seven). This circular mode of inquiry enables the poet to meditate on the theme from a number of imaginative angles so that all of its cosmic conditions and possibilities are revealed. The result is disclosure of the cosmic drama, and this phenomenon is reinforced by the way the cyclic form mimics the nature of the cosmic structure: While each poem can stand alone, its meaning is always amplified in the context of its relationships to the other poems in the cycle.

The terse, economic style evinced in this cycle is a second regular feature of Popa’s poetry. In Popa’s case, however, reductionism is more than simply a poetic style; rather, it functions as a technical device which, like the cyclic form, promotes his philosophical and artistic aims. Typically, Popa’s poems are forty to fifty words in length; they run ten to fifteen lines, with three to five words per line. They are arranged in somewhat uneven stanzas of single lines, couplets, tercets, and, more rarely, quatrains. Thus the compression is visual as well as verbal. This compression also contributes to the strong rhythm of his poetry; the meter is irregular but distinct. The majority of Popa’s poems are written in the present tense, which amplifies the...

(The entire section is 731 words.)