Themes

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Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 724

Reasons and Nonsense Pinsky chose the title of this poem for a reason, but what is it? Does the “Song of Reasons” really offer any? If not, why not? These questions may seem as jumbled and nonsensical as some readers find the poem itself, but sorting through them leads to...

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Reasons and Nonsense
Pinsky chose the title of this poem for a reason, but what is it? Does the “Song of Reasons” really offer any? If not, why not? These questions may seem as jumbled and nonsensical as some readers find the poem itself, but sorting through them leads to the discovery of an important theme in the work— how reasons and nonsense are sometimes hard to distinguish from one another and how they often work together in spite of apparent contradictions. Most writers choose their titles carefully, some trying to make them alluring in order to attract readers and others simply naming a piece after whatever the subject actually is. There is no reason to suspect that Pinsky was any less careful in titling this poem, and its name is sober enough and easy enough to accept as appropriate for what the work is about. But what it is about is not so easy.

Themes are not meant to confuse, but to stimulate thought, and “Song of Reasons” is a good stimulator. Take a close look at its supposed reasons, from the obvious to the not so obvious. It begins with the simple premise that a song’s pitch “comes back higher” because of a change in key midway through it. This cause-and-effect sequence is so blatant that it seems hardly worth noting. In the next scenario, a family of noble dukes “are permitted to ride horseback / Into the Cathedral of Notre Dame” because they “killed heretics in Languedoc seven centuries ago.” This reason is a bit murkier and made even more so by the dukes’ claim to be “somewhat Jewish,” a reason, in those days, that they would not be in Notre Dame. Next, “the people in magazines and on television” also have reasons for being the way they are, but this time Pinsky does not identify any. Instead, he leaves them “arcane” and “remote,” offering neither a sensible nor nonsensical explanation. In the final scenario, Pinsky’s daughter likes reading “The Question Man” in the newspaper because there is comfort in its routine simplicity, much like the routine simplicity of her normal day. The reasoning here makes sense, but it is not as straightforward as a song changing pitch. Neither is it as convoluted as Jewish dukes in Notre Dame claiming “Collateral descent from the family of the Virgin Mary.” While all these images may take some time and effort to sort through, in the end, they provide a good look at the relationship between seemingly opposite properties—opposites that often work together to create a diversified whole.

Making Connections
A second important theme in this poem is the desire to make connections between unlike events— large and small, past and present, cosmic and personal. Pinsky uses the techniques of blending images into one another and forcing common bonds among odd companions to accomplish his goal. Start to finish, a motley assortment of people, places, and things march through the poem to the same beat: an old opera tune, an even older French family, television and magazine personalities, the poet’s own daughter, a newspaper article, a dog, a city street, and, finally, dream images. Much of Pinsky’s work explores the relationship between the history of the world and the history of the individual, drawing from each the patterns of movement that eventually converge. The Dukes of Levis- Mirepoix, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and the region of Languedoc all share a significance in the larger realm that moves forward into the personal realm of a child’s fascination with ordinary people in the newspaper. A concrete connection is unnecessary when the deeper bond is made through a shared “indomitable charm,” at once both satisfying and inexplicable. The “change of key midway in ‘Come Back to Sorrento’” moves forward into the “animal shapes that sing at the gates of sleep,” just as the “remote Jewishness of those far Dukes” shares its history with present-day television celebrities, both possessing “purpose[s] arcane.” The “businesslike” dog connects to the street, which connects to its pavement, which connects to the traffic that travels on it. The idea here is that the world is made up of crossing paths—of large and small histories, people and things that do not exist in isolation, but, in fact, share the inexact, “throaty music” of the universe.

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