The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Schubertiana,” a poem whose title refers to nineteenth century Austrian composer Franz Schubert, consists of five numbered stanzas of varying length. Stanzas 1, 2, 4, and 5 contain from six to ten lines each; the central stanza, stanza 3, is conspicuously shorter, having only two lines. The poem is written in free verse, but, with the exception of the last two, the lines are extraordinarily long.

The poem begins with an evocation of New York City: its skyscrapers, teeming crowds, fast-paced life, squalor, and occasional violence. The poet, speaking in the first person, moves without transition to an intuitive observation: “I know too—without statistics—that right now Schubert is being played.” Not only is Schubert’s music being played somewhere, but it is more real to someone, the poet asserts, than anything else—more real than the giant city, its masses, or its misery. The musical performance is certain, even without empirical evidence.

The second stanza abruptly shifts the scene and focus. The biological foundation of all life is evoked in a reference to the physiological structure of the human brain and the swallows’ return from South Africa (Transvaal) to Europe, or, perhaps more specifically, to Sweden, to precisely the spot where they had nested the year before. Against the background of the wonderfully intricate structure of the human brain and the seeming miracle of swallow navigation, Schubert, “a fat young man...

(The entire section is 446 words.)