To the casual glance, this poem reads like an anecdote that someone on quaaludes is trying to tell. While there are enough components to encourage one to make the usual kind of sense, a quick glance shows that these components are at times displaced, distorted, or diffused. Re-readings reveal these first impressions to be accurate but inadequate. The author was anything but language-impaired or addled by drugs. Yet even as one traces symmetries that can scarcely be thought unintended, something of one’s early impression remains: One is reminded that any use of language is bound, by the nature of words, to be “language-impaired”—words push back and interfere with those meanings one had intended before trying to formulate them on the page. As trace upon trace of deliberation manifests itself and an intellectual picture begins to form—the way a photograph develops in a dark room—something is still withheld. Words and reality seldom coincide exactly; the effect is like shadowy areas in the snapshot, which throw other parts into bright relief.
First to stand out will probably be the coincidence of the poem’s beginning and end each having to do with knowing. While one is not told who “they” (line 1) are, one is invited to equate them with “the old” (as in the phrase “the known is old,” in the last line), which leaves for “us” the appellation “new.” From the first two, and the final, lines alone, it is easy to construct some...
(The entire section is 568 words.)