The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Poem About People” is composed of thirteen unrhymed quatrains with no immediately obvious metrical pattern. Its title establishes its subject; written in the first person, the poem is the speaker’s quiet meditation on what people are in appearance and in actuality and how they relate to one another.

It opens with the “I” speaking of the people he sees at grocery stores. In particular, he notes apparently middle-class, middle-aged, but still attractive women, and polite, fattish young men. Although they are all strangers to the speaker, they are people whom he believes he could like. Indeed, he says, one could “feel briefly like Jesus,” referring to the New Testament (as well as Old Testament) command “to love thy neighbor as thyself.”

The first three quatrains are concrete and almost cheerful; by suggestion, it is broad daylight. As the fourth quatrain opens, the tone and the images begin to change. The speaker feels “a gust of diffuse tenderness” that seems to link him with these people, but this gust is “crossing the dark spaces” between him and them. The poem is no longer about the sunlit world of people at the market, about human relationships; it moves within and is now about what the speaker is seeing and remembering, there where “the dry self burrows.”

The remainder of the poem is given over to showing how people do not connect with one another despite this “gust.” The third line of the...

(The entire section is 564 words.)