The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Roland Flint’s twenty-stanza poem “Sicily” tells the story of the poet’s visit to the town of Nicosia, Sicily, an island off the southern coast of Italy. Far from the life of suburban America, the poet meets people who trigger memories of his late mother and son. The Sicilians the narrator meets believe in their futures, but because they live in the shadow of the largest active volcano in Europe, they realize that life is subject to sudden catastrophe. In this foreign locale, the poet discovers he can behave as the Sicilians; he finally grieves for the losses he has suffered and comes to terms with his life.

The poem begins with a reference to the narrator having reread novelist and short-story writer “John Cheever for months” before accepting an invitation to visit Sicily. The “quick decision” to travel to remote Sicily and the “changes” in his environment have left the narrator “bewildered,” but by the close of the poem, bewilderment gives way to understanding.

In the poem’s first stanza the narrator writes that author John Cheever sees life as “confusing” yet “absorbing and dull, pained and sweet,/ Addictive and merciless—vexed, like laughter in grief.” The following stanzas describe the landscape of Nicosia, the hotel where the poet narrator stays, and a dinner given by his Sicilian hosts. The narrator comments on the atmosphere of Sicily, with its “invisible hints of the shot-gun/ and a prohibition of...

(The entire section is 557 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Sicily” is not written in formal meter; it is a free-verse poem. The poem is in open form, with stanzas varying in length from four to thirteen lines. The lines are generally end-stopped; that is, the poet’s thought is completed in each line, causing the reader to pause, or punctuation marks require the reader to pause at the end of the line. End-stopped lines slow down the movement of a poem, and Flint’s use of them contributes to the meditative sense of “Sicily.” While the poem’s lines are fairly uniform, the poet uses one hemistich, or half line, in the third-to-last stanza, when he writes “‘and left her there,’” quoting what his sister said about their buried mother.

The poet’s language is not formal but rather conversational. However, while Flint uses casual speech, he is writing for a sophisticated audience, one familiar with the work of John Cheever and Cheever’s tendency to place his characters in rainy environments where they are washed clean of their sense of isolation and confinement. Further, the poet alludes to Homer and is specific in his mention of the Sicilian writers Massimo Ganci, Franco Grasso, and Luigi Pirandello, as well as the classical writers Aeschylus and Pindar and the well-known opera Cavalleria Rusticana, which is set in Sicily. In addition, Flint makes a direct allusion to Robert Hayden’s tribute poem “Those Winter Sundays” by recalling Hayden’s description of his father’s service...

(The entire section is 501 words.)