“A Smell of Cordwood” is an ode (a song of praise) in seven stanzas; it is written in free verse. The title is significant in that it states the rather unusual subject matter being praised: the smell of ordinary wood.
The opening stanza begins abruptly, in medias res (in the middle of things). The speaker of the poem describes the feeling of the cold and starry night as it rushes in through the door of his home “on an ocean/ of galloping hooves.” Night is personified as an invading presence.
In the next brief stanza, out of the darkness, “like a hand,” comes “the savage/ aroma/ of wood on the woodpile.” Like the night that invaded the speaker’s domicile, the aroma of wood is humanized; it savagely assaults and overwhelms the speaker’s senses.
The third stanza infuses the odor of the wood with life and form; it “lives/ like a tree.” The odor is so palpable, so intense, in fact, that the poet, deliberately confusing the senses, calls it “visible.” The stanza ends with another metaphor. The wood becomes so “alive” that it is as if it “pulsed like a tree.”
When the speaker describes the odor as “Vesture/ made visible” in the next stanza (two lines), the metaphor in the preceding stanza is continued. This line is a play on the biblical phrase “and the Word was made flesh.” Instead of the Word, however, the odor is made flesh. Moreover, the word “vesture” has a...
(The entire section is 456 words.)