The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Sorting, wrapping, packing, stuffing” is a poem in free verse, its sixty-five lines divided into seven stanzas of varying lengths. The title strongly suggests the poem’s method and tone by signifying busy activity, the four consecutive participles accumulating into a sense of hurry and culminating in a sense of fullness. The poem is written in the first person, yet the role of this person is not so much to reveal his character or emotions as to be the instigator and then the witness of the poem’s events. He appears to the reader more as a performer than as a speaker.

“Sorting, wrapping, packing, stuffing” begins with a disorderly catalog of tacky domestic trivia, such as “dirty socks in dirty sneakers.” The atmosphere is one of carelessness and transience; then this atmosphere is startlingly transformed by the ringing of a “great bronze bell.” The sound elevates the tone of the poem to one of importance, of some unnamed crisis in which the soiled ephemera of the opening lines must be reassessed and sorted out. This emergency surprises the speaker in the midst of his own domestic trivia, just as he is making some instant coffee and a sandwich. Suddenly he is compelled to judge and to rank his belongings, to choose from among them those he will rescue from the still unnamed crisis. The madcap pressure of his situation is epitomized by what is apparently his most prized possession, “a blue fire escape”: How can such an object be...

(The entire section is 529 words.)