Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Return” functions on a variety of thematic levels. The nature of memory, the function of time and self-imposed boundaries, loss of purpose, decay in the modern world, and the power of the imagination all play important roles in the poem.

Ostensibly, the poem appears to focus on the speaker’s return to Mexico. His displeasure with what he sees is apparent as he assembles a host of urban wasteland images that are fused with his memory. At one point he comments, “I am in Mixcoac,” the place of his infancy. He states, “I am walking back/ back to what I left/ or to what left me.” The speaker’s memory of his homeland is not distinct from his visions of modern Mexico. He indicates that his past has become part of his present, a present that does not offer the remembered sanctity of childhood.

The speaker’s exposure to Mexico City and its corruption greatly disturbs him. He sees that his people, along with their institutions, have failed. Traversing the city, he moves deeper into the very fabric of Mexican culture. His once-objective observations are tinged with infuriation and bitterness. Yet the speaker does not view his people without pity. He sees the common man and woman partially as victims, citizens whose institutions and culture have betrayed them. Nevertheless, the modern Mexican wasteland is a creation of the speaker’s compatriots, whether villains or victims. The speaker senses the enormity of their failure as he glides from one image of despair to the next. His surroundings become dehumanized, and the speaker eventually loses his body and spirit to these surroundings. At one point, he exclaims,...

(The entire section is 672 words.)