Which language devices in "Exchange at Skirmish Point" convey the poem's general meaning?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The first language device occurs immediately after the title. Savige employs an epigraph excerpted from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. The quotation speaks of the necessity of exchanged goods being comparable so as to determine comparable value or--as the poem sadly shows--what comparable payment might be.

[he] was
asked for his hat,
the one with the cabbage tree
in exchange for her dilly (a bag
made of rushes
He took the dilly, but couldn't
relinquish his hat,
& so a spear sailed over the gunwale;
the musket succeeded on the third
attempt, ....

Another language device occurs in lines one and two and is not usually seen in poetry. The first two lines end in identical phonetic word sounds: tide and tied. These are homonyms, spelled differently, certainly with different meaning, but sounding identical. Savige may have done this to add texture to the lines, or perhaps to illustrate the importance of the message of the epigraph: "Things exchanged should be comparable of comparison": tide and tied being comparable by sound.

Another language device I'll mention is interesting and occurs in these lines:

cut open a pine that smelt for all
money of turpentine

Savige plays with these words, giving them two meanings. The first possible meaning leaves out the variation on an idiomatic expression, "for all money." It can then be rewritten as: "cut open a pine that smelt of turpentine."

The second meaning changes the idiomatic phrase to hyperbaton that rearranges word order to dramatically express meaning. The lines may be paraphrased: "cut open a pine that smelt, for all present, like money from turpentine."

So in one reading, you have pine that smells of turpentine. In the other reading, you have pine that smells metaphorically like wealth that will come from selling the pine turpentine.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial