Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Although “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” appears to be organized according to the hours of night, the sequence of impressions in the poem is dictated by psychological connections more than by chronology. The influence of the French philosopher Henri Bergson is evident when the speaker lets his memory synthesize unconsciously and spontaneously (rather than analyze rationally or logically) and when he seems repelled by the idea of blind reflex actions—the kind of automatic and empty motions that unite the cat licking rancid butter, the child with vacant eyes grabbing a toy, the crab gripping a stick, eyes peering through shutters, a woman twisting a paper rose, and his own mechanical preparations for bed.

This creative process of the memory, however, leads to nothing hopeful for the speaker, as the futile action of shaking a dead geranium implies. All the images that are so imaginatively synthesized are twisted or distorted in some way. Some are literally twisted concrete objects—a branch, a broken spring, a torn hem, and a crooked pin—while other objects take on unusual properties or configurations—street lamps beat like drums and speak, sand stains a dress, an eye “twists like a crooked pin,” and a cat “flattens itself in the gutter.” Some involve twisting motions or sensations, including the smells that “cross and cross across her brain.” Still others are distorted by deterioration—the rusted spring has lost its strength, the butter...

(The entire section is 434 words.)