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Introduction

(Poetry for Students)

Carol Muske-dukes's poem "Our Side," published in 2003, is about the loss of a lover. Many of the poems in Sparrow, the collection in which this poem appears, are about death. The collection is dedicated to the poet's husband, David Dukes, who died unexpectedly in 2000. In "Our Side," the speaker tries to call back the spirit of someone she has loved and who has died. She wants him to return in some form to "our side," the side of the living. The speaker admits that she understands that this need to see "the lost," those who have died, is one-sided. The living, the speaker says, are the ones who have the need to be remembered. This view is the opposite of the belief and practice of most people, who visit the graves of the dead in attempts to remember them, to memorialize them. Although it is about death and about longing on the part of someone who has lost a lover, "Our Side" is not morbid or melancholic. By the end of the poem, readers are much more aware of the love felt by the speaker than they are of death. The poem is a love song rather than a requiem.

Summary

(Poetry for Students)

Stanza 1

"Our Side" begins with an attempt by the speaker to understand what it must be like to be dead. The speaker begins by describing the "newly dead" as "disoriented" because they have crossed over into unfamiliar territory. Their first reaction, according to the speaker, is "to turn back." The speaker refers to the newly dead as having crossed "the great expanse of water." This crossing may refer to the symbolic crossing of the river that is often mentioned in poems and myths about death. The crossing also may be a reference to a favorite place in which the speaker and her departed lover may have spent time—the ocean's edge, which is mentioned later in the poem.

The speaker relates the great expanse of water to another kind of distance, that which is "inside each of them," that is, the newly dead. This distance, which the speaker does not quite define, is "steadily growing" inside of them. It is also this distance that "draws them away at last." Depending on the reader's religious or spiritual background, these lines can be interpreted in many ways. The distance may represent a god or a spiritual dwelling place, such as heaven. Because the distance is inside each of the departed, it also may be a reference to the soul. In this sense, the speaker may be referring to the soul's wanting to be reunited with the source of its energy, which is what is causing the dead to be drawn away. By using the phrase "at last" at the end of stanza 1, the speaker adds an element of release, as if the living endure life and the dead finally experience a sense of the peace they have been waiting for. This feeling is emphasized in stanza 2.

Stanza 2

"Tenderness and longing lose direction," the speaker states. This notion is confusing and difficult to understand until the next phrase is added: "… all terror / and love in the cells slowly dissipate." The speaker imagines the release that the dead feel when they cross the great expanse of water. All worldly emotions, all connections with loved ones are finally lifted, or finally melted away. These burdens belong to the living, not the dead. The burdens are the feeling of loneliness and the emptiness that those left behind must bear. The ones who once supported them in love no longer care. "Despite our endless calling" is attached to stanza 2 by meaning as well as by structure. The dead release their emotions despite the fact that the ones whom they once loved are calling out to them. The thought is completed in stanza 3.

Stanza 3

The first line of stanza 3 completes the thought that begins "Despite our endless calling," in stanza 2. The speaker continues, "their names fall away into the great canyons / of the infinite." Loved ones crying out to the dead, calling their names, eventually must face the fact that the newly dead cannot hear them. The names of the newly dead are like their bodies. They have become useless. A name is significant only in...

(The entire section is 2,254 words.)