The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Twins” is a forty-three-line poem written in free verse and loosely divided into four parts, within which there are several stanzaic forms. The title is not intended to help readers anticipate the matter of the poem; rather, it facilitates a moment of unanticipated recognition in the last quarter when one realizes that the twins alluded to are in fact the poet and the poet’s father.

Many readers will recognize the familiar division between a parent and child, where, as in this case, father and son rebuke each other for not honoring the other’s values. The father wants the son to honor mother, country, and right behavior, and the son wants the father to be less somber and to learn to enjoy life. This state of affairs remains the same until the father dies.

The past tense, used in the first part or stanza, reflects the poet’s memory of the problem between them. The rest of the poem is written in the present tense, which supports the “here and now” of his dutiful inspection of his father’s personal effects. He sees “dead shoes,” “dead cigarettes,” and the “last bed he slept in.” He is temporarily heartened to see that the manner of his father’s death (“in the kitchen at 7 am/ while others are frying eggs”) was not such a bad way to go, unless it had been his own death, and the poet then is faced with his own mortality.

That unhappy thought sends him outdoors, and the third stanza finds Charles...

(The entire section is 496 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Free verse is free in that it does not force the poet’s ideas into a prearranged metrical or rhymed pattern, but it is not so free that the poet can forget rhythm and stress altogether. To do that would indeed leave the world with prose. Rhythmic movement either assists or impedes the advance of the narrative. In “The Twins,” the uncontrollable nature of grief is reflected in the relatively fluid nature of free verse.

The opening section of the poem depicts a tired argument, one that has been rehearsed over and over, and it is jammed together in a rush of prose. The second and third stanzas consist of long lines, each of which generally addresses advancing points in the narrative: “I move through . . .”; “I go outside. . . .” Images of life (seeds, bulbs) and of death (scarecrow) mingle uneasily; at the end of each of the four sections, the poet sees the stark reality of death, and the verse in each stanza shrinks, leaving death conspicuously alone. “He was my old/ man/ and he died.” The line lengths shorten relentlessly until in the fourth section there are three stanzas of progressively fewer lines. The poem ends with two syllables: “to die.” This gradual constriction of the line reinforces this inevitable final unadorned act of life.

The figure of the twins, while standing literally for the father and son, also stands for the old and the new, the traditional and the contemporary. The poem is an elegy, a modern...

(The entire section is 556 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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