(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Unseen” is set in a specific town in Poland with a particular historical burden. Immediately, the reader knows the setting: the rain, the stone arcade, and smoky air of one “penetrating color.” This color is gray, setting a particular empty tone to the poem. The people in the poem are on a tour and the speaker in the poem provides the images for the reader, including the audience to tour the death camp.

Pinsky presents a list: toothbrushes, hair, shoes, photographs. These are all human ordinary materials, which adds irony to this tour of a death camp, since a death camp seems unordinary and horrific. The speaker even remarks, “We felt bored,” but then, with the use of enjambment, Pinsky juxtaposes boredom with the next line, “And at the same time like screaming Biblical phrases: I am poured out like water.” It is necessary to grasp this allusion to Psalm 22:14 in order to understand the poem’s underlying theme. Psalm 22 is the prophecy of the Messiah, of Christ, and begins with the words “Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me,” Christ’s final words when dying on the cross. Though Pinsky is Jewish and is walking through a death camp where Jews were tortured and killed, he still includes the suffering of Christ, who was a Jewish man, with the suffering of all the Jews killed in these death camps. This brings the poem a more universal theme of suffering and loss.

All this is suddenly altered with the dream vision of the...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Dietz, Maggie, and Robert Pinsky, eds. An Invitation to Poetry: A New Favorite Poem Project Anthology. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.

Downing, Ben, and Daniel Kunitz. “The Art of Poetry: LXXVI.” Paris Review 144 (Fall, 1997): 180-213.

Pinsky, Robert. Democracy Culture and the Voice of Poetry. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Pinsky, Robert. The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.

Pinsky, Robert. Poetry and the World. New York: Ecco Press, 1988.