Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 445

Flint’s poems are generally contemplative, concerning themselves with how human beings find balance in the midst of anguish and loss. Often relying on anecdotal material, Flint’s poems examine the depths of human endurance and despair. “Sicily” is typical of Flint’s work. The poet uses his trip from Washington, D.C., to the Italian island for a poetry reading as a catalyst for his long poem. Just as Flint chooses simple, direct language to express a sophisticated perspective, he chooses the simplest of images from his trip to explain the most complex of human emotions.

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A bus driver named Antonio explains the impact of one of Etna’s earlier eruptions and “What the earthquakes hit and missed” and then sings from an opera based on a Sicilian novella. The reader sees that Antonio can celebrate his country in spite of its randomly destructive history. When “one of the foreigners” offers a young translator “a marzipan” (a sweet cake), she in turn presents the “sea at Acireale today—and the sky.” The translator cherishes the natural world in which she lives, so much so that she can offer it as a gift. These accessible images are a direct connection to the poet narrator’s philosophy that life is beautiful because it is so fragile.

Flint uses two specific narrative techniques in his poem, foreshadowing and making use of the rhetorical device of quoting certain characters. When the poet mentions that he has become bewildered by the changes in his environment (in stanza 2), he prepares the reader to realize the other changes in his environment that have left him bewildered, the death of his child and the death of his mother. In stanza 7, the poet mentions how a young girl appears to understand “more” than the poet does. The mention prepares readers to see how, in stanza 11, the woman translator also understands more than the poet does.

Instead of restating what his characters have said, Flint reports their speech. Reporting speech is more direct than paraphrasing speech. Most writers use quotations when the authority of the source being quoted is relevant to advancing a thesis. Flint is no exception. He quotes John Cheever’s view of life, the translator who is grateful for a small courtesy, his mother who had a premonition of her sudden death, and his sister who says “I can’t stop thinking we just put her in the ground/ and left her there.” The quotations illuminate the concepts central to Flint’s vision of life: bewilderment, gratitude, foreknowledge, and grief. Underlying these concepts is Flint’s acceptance of life, with its “harsh surface beauty” that is nonetheless worth opening oneself to.

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