Line 1 Koch’s “Paradiso” begins with a statement that may be called an absolute positive negative: “There is no way not to be excited” (italics inserted). From the outset, the speaker takes away all but one option on how to respond to what he is about to say. Whoever hears him, whoever reads his words must be as excited as he is about the coming scenario.
Line 2 What follows is seemingly a statement of direct address—a speaker talking pointedly to “you” the reader, but later in the poem the second person turns into the first, and the reader realizes the speaker is actually talking to himself. In line 2 the topic is disillusionment, but it is coupled with the enlightened notion of something “rais[ing] its head,” implying a rebirth or reprieve from what has been keeping the head down. The idea of human disillusionment is central to the poem’s meaning, as is the will to overcome it, and the first two lines of “Paradiso” establish this central theme.
Line 3 Koch relies on personification (a figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstract ideas are represented with human qualities or form) in the beginning of the poem to describe the “form of reality”—noted later in line 6—by which the speaker has been “disillusioned.” In line 3 the image implied is a human being sitting perhaps at a table, with arms folded atop it and his or her head buried within the arms. One can picture the head slowly rising “From [the] arms” and a facial expression that indicates the person “seems to want to talk to you again.” Visually personifying reality and disillusionment reflects the speaker’s eagerness to connect with what has been eluding him.
Lines 4–5 These lines suggest how intense emotions can be when one is on the brink of making a connection to a longed-for reality. The mind becomes so tunneled to one goal that “You forget home and family” and head out on some wild goose chase “on foot or in your automobile” in a desperate, if not blind, search for something that may not even exist.
Lines 6–8 In these lines, the speaker reveals what he is seeking—the place where “this form of reality / May dwell.” The reality he seeks is the one that “raises its head” and “seems to want to talk” in lines 2 and 3, but the hope and excitement within those previous lines are quickly dashed in lines 7 and 8: “Not finding it there, you refuse / Any further contact.” The irony is that there has been no contact in the first place, and yet the speaker must console himself by believing he is in control of the situation and can therefore be the one to “refuse” contact.
Lines 9–10 Line 9 is a continuation of the thought expressed in the previous two lines, but it also contrasts with that sentiment. The speaker vows to refuse contact, then tempers his declaration with “Until you are back again trying to forget.” In essence, he finds himself right back where he started, longing to connect with a reality that keeps eluding him. It is that reality which the speaker thinks is the “only thing that moved you,” but readers should notice the parenthetical qualifier “(it seems).” This qualifier is the first indication in the poem that the speaker may be wavering in his steadfast beliefs. Perhaps the “only thing” that can move him and bring him happiness is not the only thing after all. These lines mark the point in the poem where the second-person “you” begins to sound...
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more like a first-person “me”—that is, the speaker now appears to address his own situation and his own desperate need to find a happy reality. Readers may assume that from here to the end of the poem, the speaker is talking to himself, and his tone seems to soften as he admits that the elusive reality “gave” him “what [he] forever will / have.”
Line 11 In this line, the speaker resigns himself to the fact that what he has been chasing (arguably, the first love of his life who is now gone from him) will remain “in the form of a disillusion,” taking him full circle back to the personified image of his ambiguous reality before it “raises its head,” tempting him to go after it again.
Lines 12–13 Line 12 is the main turning point in “Paradiso,” as it is the first time that a forward-looking attitude is described. Now the speaker is “looking toward the horizon,” which he apparently does “often.” In line 13 he declares that what he has been seeking is within sight, but he questions whether it is in fact “inimical” (harmful) to him. Why would this phrase—”inimical to you?”—be offset in an otherwise positive statement and what does it reveal about the speaker’s ultimate concerns? Perhaps it is evidence he is still unsure of his feelings and is so afraid to admit the possibility of finding what he has “never found” that he wonders if it may hurt him in some way. Regardless of the reason, these lines are pivotal in that the speaker finally acknowledges that his obsession with what he has “been disillusioned by” (line 2) may be useless, considering the real thing may be right there on the horizon.
Line 14 Here the speaker further emphasizes his belief that the reality he seeks is unattainable because he “could never have / imagined” it is possible to find it. Yet “those who came before him”—perhaps those who were living proof that one can have more than one path to happiness—have left such an impression on him that he now too believes he can achieve it.
Lines 15–17 In these lines Koch unravels the mystery of his speaker’s metaphorical allusions from the first threequarters of the poem. The speaker berates himself for having “thought there was one person who could make [him] / Happy,” and for thinking that “happiness was not the uneven / Phenomenon” he had always known it to be. Emphasis should be placed on the word “one” in line 15 because the happiness the speaker has been chasing is based on his belief that it can come from only one person, and when that one person is gone, the hope of real happiness is gone with him or her. The speaker has finally realized that happiness is indeed an “uneven / Phenomenon” and that someone else can come along and bring about the same feeling of euphoria.
Line 18 Line 18 is a continuation of the question the speaker asks himself in line 17—essentially, why believe in a “Reality” that exists only in the past and is now just a memory “dependent on the time allowed it” by his mind?
Lines 19–20 Turn these two final lines of the poem around from a negative perspective to a positive one, and they read something like this: “Your false reality has more to do with an inability to accept all the things ‘life promised that you could do’ than with an older man trying to believe he is still young by ‘exil[ing]’ himself from his real age.” In other words, the speaker is trying to convince himself that his disillusionment is not just a result of nostalgic longing to be young again, but more a product of his unwillingness to move beyond what he has lost and toward all other possibilities that life holds. In spite of seeming otherwise, Koch’s poem actually ends on a good note, for the implication is that the speaker may finally realize he has found his paradise—or “paradiso”—after years of believing it was gone forever.