The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Stone Harp” is a free-verse poem of twenty-five lines divided into six stanzas. The title, evocative of a mysterious sound, illustrates John Haines’s tendency toward surrealism, a quality noted in many of his poems from the 1971 collection The Stone Harp. Haines homesteaded in Alaska (1947, 1954-1969) and established himself as a nature writer. He published this volume, an assortment of mystical and loosely political poems, to mixed reviews. Although he was caught up in the political atmosphere of the late 1960’s, he has noted that he was probably too far removed from the events to communicate effectively about them. Perhaps this situation accounts for the somewhat ethereal quality of his work at the time.

“The Stone Harp,” Haines says, “was inspiredby the sound made by a sudden drop in winter temperatures at my old homestead outside Fairbanks: a very loud humming in the telephone wires, pronounced enough to vibrate in the pole itself.” To him, this suggested the earth as a harp with telephone wires as strings. The first stanza describes it thus:

A road deepening in the north,strung with steel,resonant in the winter evening,as though the earth were a harpsoon to be struck.

From this simple image, Haines weaves a metaphor that...

(The entire section is 410 words.)