Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The first important theme in the poem is that the change of the year does not produce change or renewal but a seemingly endless cycle: “Old year, new year, old song, new song.” Nature is part of this repetitive cycle. The references to literary elements in the poem are worth noting, as they are also caught in an unrenewing cycle. “Prosodies rise and fall./ Structures rise in the mind and fall.” The change in prosodies does not give the poet a useable metrical system but a sense of chaos in the displacement of existing systems. The imagination of the poet is caught in this dead end as well; Structures may rise in the mind, but then they disintegrate. Furthermore, words—and thereby the naming and placing of objects, the most elemental tools of the poet—do not provide an instrument for vision but take one further from illumination.

The “emptiness” of the second section is an important thematic shift in the poem. It reflects not a repetitive cycle but a closure. Although it does not provide renewal, it is a step toward change and a way out of the endless cycles of the poem. The “loss” that has filled the first two parts of the poem is now a “gain.” Wright does not explain this paradox; he simply asserts it as a truth. In addition, there is a freedom of movement here that has not been seen earlier in the poem—“dark selves” move like bodies of water being moved by the tide. The darkness that has been so much a part of the poem is...

(The entire section is 438 words.)