The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In seven stanzas of free verse, Galway Kinnell, the first-person narrator, remembers his lost brother, who died twenty-one years before. Kinnell creates an imaginary reunion he and his black-sheep brother might have in their fifties if they could meet. His brother had run off years ago, after his dream of being a pilot failed; he wandered around and eventually died as an exile from his family. Kinnell imagines that they meet and hug, and that his splintered family is momentarily reunited.

The poem is divided onto five sections, beginning with the surfacing of a subconscious memory of the brother that Kinnell experiences as “a mouth/ speaking from under several inches of water.” This resurrected corpse of a memory brings an ugly image of the lost one as “wastreled down” with “ratty” eyes. In part 2, old photographs of World War II airplanes and of a tractor left by his brother trigger Kinnell’s memories. He remembers that his brother’s soaring dream of being a pilot was shattered when he “washed out” of pilot training in 1943. Kinnell’s brother, broken by this failure, became a wanderer for twelve years until he died in an automobile crash in the Wyoming desert. In part 3, the poet sees himself and his lost brother as both possessing traits of their unsuccessful father, Scotty. He remembers his father’s walk and “jiggling” knees, his beliefs in “divine capitalist law” even though he was starving, and his half-failures both...

(The entire section is 500 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Kinnell is a confessionalist poet—that is, he writes about his own personal experience and tries to transmute it and depict it as universal human experience. True to his Whitmanesque roots, he writes in free verse and creates vivid, emotive images through repetition, analogies, irony, and poetic catalogs as he weaves his elegiac “reunion” in this poem.

In the second section, for example, Kinnell moves from the outside world of physical memorabilia—photos left by his brother—inward to the mental images formed in his own memory. Such inward motion may represent one step toward the mental reunion found at the poem’s end. Kinnell begins and ends this part of the poem by mentioning the odd photograph in the box, one of a farmer sitting on a tractor and gazing at his fields. The poet repeats the words “photograph” or “photographs” three times and implies a whole cluster of images of planes when he catalogs and lists names of World War II airplanes: “Heinkel HE70’s, Dewoitine D333/ “Antares,” Loire-et-Olivier H24-2—.” Each plane presumably had a photograph, so many photographs are implied. By listing the plane names and exact model numbers, Kinnell reveals his brother’s expert knowledge of World War II aircraft. The repetition of names also underscores the brother’s obsession with flying.

Ironically, the brother’s flying dream was dashed at the point it possibly could have been actualized in life—he went to...

(The entire section is 582 words.)