The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Joseph Brodsky’s sequence comprises fifteen sections, each twelve lines in length (with the single exception of section three, which is sixteen lines). The sections are written in accordance with formal metrics and employ a variety of rhyme schemes and sound patterns to underscore the thematic concerns. Alternating between a first-person singular and a more impersonal, omniscient voice, the individual poems create a collage of perspectives around the central themes of time, exile, and alienation.

The title, “A Part of Speech,” indicates two of the sequence’s primary concerns. One is the sense of an incomplete and fragmented vision arising from the condition of displacement, loss and alienation; the second concern relates directly to the notion of language as a continuum and the poet’s sense of his partial voice, of the difficulties inherent in speech and expression under these conditions.

The first section introduces the speaker’s biographical situation and its relation to poetic expression. The section becomes an ars poetica, an explanation of his poetics, and an invocation to the muse, tying the nature of his temporal and spatial condition to language and creativity itself. Of particular interest is the stress on sound—the importance of articulation (voice) and the emphasis placed on reception (hearing), the two components necessary for successful speech and poetry.

Section 2 begins the process of elaboration, picking up on the initial geographic and climatic references. Here, the effects of the climate, the power of bitter cold to destroy and the desire it engenders for warmth and inclusion, become analogies for the speaker’s psychological and political situation. Brodsky is mapping the condition of a psyche at odds with its environment, grappling with the displacements of time and space, and using the structures of the language itself to embody this reality....

(The entire section is 786 words.)