Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Brodsky’s initial and most obvious device is his choice of models: Auden’s poem on the death of Yeats. The poem is not a narrative, so the three parts are not chapters forming a beginning, middle, and end. Instead, they vary in formal structure and in tone, changing the stance of the person looking at this poet’s life and work. While Auden eschews rhyme and strict meter in the first two parts, Brodsky observes them. (The English translation, though more regular in meter than Auden’s poem, is not as traditional in form as Brodsky’s original version.) The formal likeness is greatest in part 3, in which the meter (trochaic tetrameter), regular rhyme scheme (abab), choice of stanza (quatrain), and use of repetition give the whole section both regular movement and finality.

Yet Brodsky’s poem is not an imitation; rather, it uses Auden’s reflection on a poet’s life, death, and art as a framework for a different sort of monument. For example, Auden’s three parts reflect stages in Yeats’s poetry, last to first: realistic, sober, and urban in his last years; ironic and emotional in the middle; Romantic, balladic, and folkloric in the beginning. Brodsky uses his divisions differently; they mark not progression but a shift in angle of vision that is linguistically expressed as style. Connecting links are arranged not in time but in space, using imagery often found in Eliot’s own work: bleak cities, landscapes, and seas. There are...

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