The Poem

Roland Flint’s “Varna Snow” is a poignant meditation on time, specifically on the fluid continuum of past, present, and future. The poem’s dramatic opening sentence alone is composed of a freewheeling tumble of temporal references: “summer,” “years,” “morning,” “hour,” and a specific day (namely, the Fourth of July). The poet, now at midlife—he recalls a childhood event now forty-three years past—ponders the implications of being timebound. Aided by the engine of the imagination, every person, Flint finds, can exist at any moment simultaneously at the juncture of three tenses: in the past, the present, and the future. Here, a natural phenomena, specifically the heavy clouds of windblown seeds released in the early summer by cottonwood trees, triggers a series of observations, first about the poet’s childhood on the North Dakota farmlands; then about his present moment as a scholar visiting Varna (in the early 1980’s, Flint traveled to Bulgaria as part of a project to translate several prominent national poets); and ultimately about the uncertain time ahead, presumably the inevitable experience of death.

The poem begins tied to a specific time and space. It is early June in Varna, the Bulgarian port on the west shore of the Black Sea. For days now, the poet has watched women sweep the fleecy cottonwood seeds that drift like snow along the city sidewalks. That present moment and location are not actually established until...

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Forms and Devices

The poem is invitingly direct. Although Flint was a career academic, teaching for more than thirty-five years at Georgetown University, his poem is remarkably free of the elevated diction, dense philosophizing, and studied versification that often characterize the work of contemporary academic poets. He often described his poems as “common feelings, captured in uncommon language.” Indeed, his diction is deceptively simple, a sort of elegant colloquialism, a style Flint often termed “user-friendly.” Language does not call attention to itself. Flint dispenses with the conventions of rhythm and rhyme. The line length undulates in a sort of gentle ebb and flow patterning appropriate to a memory poem. The verse lines themselves are set in a supple free verse pitched to enhance an atmosphere of bittersweet recollection by frequently indulging the sibilant’s sound—the first four-line sentence alone contains six such sounds—whose calming hypnotic effect is quite pronounced. When the poem is read aloud, and Flint’s poetry is very much pitched for recitation, that soft lilting sound, along with the repeated use of rich, rolling long vowels, slows the poem’s lines and enhances the poem’s general mood of recollection.

In addition to the language, point of view here is direct. Flint comes to his poem without affectation. The point of the view here is the unmediated first-person—the poem commences and then sustains the vulnerability of the...

(The entire section is 441 words.)