Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 835
“Once Again I Prove the Theory of Relativity” begins with the speaker imagining the return of someone she obviously loves deeply. Addressing the absent lover directly, she imagines how she would act toward him if he returned. First, she would treat him like a valuable work of art, such as a piece by Matisse that had been considered lost. Henri Matisse was a French painter and sculptor who lived from 1869 to 1954. The speaker would also honor her returning lover by seating him on a couch like a pasha. A pasha was a Turkish title of rank or honor, placed after a person’s name. The speaker then says she would dance a Sevillana, which is a dance from Seville, Spain that can be performed by a single female dancer. She would also leap around like a Taiwanese diva. Diva literally means goddess, and the term is often applied to female vocal stars in pop and opera. Taiwan has a number of young, female pop stars who are often called divas. They are known for their energetic and athletic performances on stage.
Next, the speaker says she would bang cymbals like in a Chinese opera. Chinese opera makes frequent use of percussion instruments. The persona of the poem would also “roar like a Fellini soundtrack.” Federico Fellini (1920–1993) was an Italian film director, famous for innovative films such as La strada, La dolce vita, and Otto e mezzo (8-1/2). Nino Rota wrote the music for Fellini’s films, which contribute greatly to their impact. The two men had a long collaboration, which ended only with Rota’s death in 1979. The poem’s speaker says she would also laugh like the little dog in the nursery rhyme that watched the cow jump over the moon.
The speaker continues to address her absent lover. If he were to return, she would be a clown and tell funny stories. She would paint clouds on the walls of her home—an image that presumably expresses her desire to show artistic creativity. She would put the best linen on the bed for him and observe him while he sleeps. During this time, she would hold her breath, which is a way of saying that she would be very quiet so as not to awaken him.
The speaker breaks off from addressing her loved one directly and, using a series of similes, muses on the beauty of her beloved. Her beloved is like the “color inside an ear” or “like a conch shell.” A conch shell is a spiral, one-piece shell of certain sea mollusks or any large shell used as a horn for calling. The third simile used to convey the beauty of her beloved is a nude by Modigliani. Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) was a French painter known for his distinctive portraits and nudes.
In this stanza, the speaker returns to addressing her beloved. She declares that this time she will cut off some of his hair, so that even if he leaves her again, some part of him will remain. This image sparks a memory for the speaker of how soft her lover’s hair is, the softest that can be imagined.
The speaker continues with another set of actions she would perform if the beloved returned. She would present him with flowers and fruit, including parrot tulips and papaya. Parrot tulips have petals that are feathered, curled, twisted, or waved. The flowers are large and brightly colored. The papaya is a tropical tree that produces large yelloworange fruit, like a melon.
The speaker then says she would laugh at the stories her returning lover told, though she could equally well be silent in his presence. She knows her lover is aware such an act of silence in his presence is normally hard for her.
The speaker seems to have no illusions about her lover. She knows when he grows tired of her or the place they live, he will leave. He could go anywhere, and she names places far away and near: Patagonia, a region in Argentina and Chile; Cairo, Egypt; Istanbul, Turkey; Katmandu, the capital city of Nepal; and finally Laredo, Texas, a town on the United States-Mexico border with a large Mexican American population.
Projecting into the future, the speaker imagines what she will gain by her lover’s return, even if he later departs again. She will have savored him like a tasty food, memorized everything about him, and tasted his essence (“held you under my tongue”). She will have learned him by heart. Here the poet plays on the usual meaning of the expression “learn by heart,” which means to learn by memorizing. Since the poet has already mentioned memorizing, this phrase placed here means that the speaker learned all about her lover through her heart, through love.
The speaker’s conclusion is that when her loved one leaves, all her knowledge and love of him will yield their fruit in the poetry she will write. He will become her muse.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support