The Poem

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 388

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Through twelve lines forming three stanzas, the speaker recalls a final meeting between herself and a man, perhaps a lover, someone with whom she had previously had other meetings, implied in the second line, “where we had always met.” The place where the meeting took place, the embankment, is clearly recalled, and she remembers of what the man spoke: summer and the absurd idea of a woman being a poet. In her mind’s eye, she can “still see” the palace and fortress, she can still imagine the air itself, “so miraculous.” The friend, or lover, however, remains anonymous, a suggestion, a reference to summer, an attitude toward women as poets.

The poet remembers setting, mood, feeling, whereas the former acquaintance has faded into a memory of significant details, a voice in spring mentioning summer. The recollection creates an evocative scene in which the natural setting and architecture take on greater clarity than the companion himself, who all but disappears from the poem half way through. It is as if the speaker, hearing him ridicule women poets, turns away to the past, recalling the palace and fortress, symbols of imperial strength, historical continuity, and grandeur. The image of stately buildings diminishes the momentous “absurd.” Whatever pain his ridicule may have caused is thus deflected. Then the poet shifts suddenly in the final stanza to the air, contrasting it with the grand buildings and suggesting her own wafting moods, once majestic then as insubstantial as the air.

As the poem advances, however, the poet’s vision broadens. It rises from the embankment and the threatening river—the Neva—from the acquaintance and his insulting remark, passes through the pomp of regal power, and comes to God, the ultimate authority and giver of life-giving air, everything. The small talk about summer, the sexist remark of one no longer seen—perhaps because of his prejudice—the grand architecture, all are diminished by the “miraculous” gift of God, which is followed, in the concluding two lines, by the poem’s ultimate revelation: In that moment of vision, seeing that the air is God’s gift, the poet received another gift, another mad song. The poem rises to this liberating perception—that her poetic gift mingles with the air itself—which is the medium through which God sends the gift of poetic song.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 621

“We Met for the Last Time” is a spare poem, lacking metaphor and the conventional decorations of the lyric, but its symbolic overtones are potent nevertheless. Without human characters described and set in motion, although the poem is about two people meeting in a park, the drama unfolds in other ways, through other “characters,” the Neva, which, by threatening the city, represents a vaguely hostile force, not unlike the male acquaintance in the abstract sense. Nature, however, is not to be feared for long, for “summer” is mentioned, possibly as a mitigating presence, one that diminishes the threat of the river. The palace and fortress stand like sentinels, stern reminders of man’s authority, dominant presences in a natural world of graceful beauty and delicate breezes. From heaven comes the messenger, air.

The movement of the poet through the poem suggests her shifting moods and the course her vision takes as it leaves the embankment, sees the palace and fortress, and discovers the air, transformed into song. It also suggests action in a poem that is but a static memory. The poem actually works like the song the poet says the situation presented by the poem has afforded her: It is set in words but, when sung, is transformed into life, motion, beauty, a moving vision, or a vision of moving things.

The language is simple in both the original and translated versions, and the stanzas in the original are rhymed (abab, cdcd, efef—the first and third lines of the last stanza contain slant rhymes). Rhyme would reinforce the poem’s final statement, drawing attention to the artful decoration of song without spoiling the simplicity and naturalness of the poet’s voice. The subtle grace of the lines is somewhat deceptive in that it makes a very artful and complicated poem appear natural and simple. A considerable amount of tension is created by what the poet does not say directly. One expects conventional expressions and reactions but gets irony and surprise. For example, the beginning lines suggest a mournful recollection of a departed lover, yet the poem by the second stanza is attentive to something else, a critical remark made by a male acquaintance. The final stanza shifts further, from the negative middle to a perception that suggests a consummation. The poem’s “action” is created by these shifts in the poet’s remembrance—it moves, rather than anything or anyone in the poem—and as it moves, it seems to rise from the embankment, to the stately architecture, and toward the higher realm, where “mad songs” are created, in the “miraculous” air, with God.

As the poet’s memory spans the scene from a future time, moving from place to palace to epiphany, so does the poet’s attitude shift. The man’s casual remarks about the summer are recalled before the pivotal remark about the absurdity of her poetic commitment, a remark delivered without direct comment and left to echo through the rest of the poem. One might think the poet is too hurt to comment, too taken aback; perhaps she is too imperial and dignified, like the buildings of which she is reminded; or she knows the understated report of the remark is condemnation enough. In the final stanza, however, the poet has taken flight from the embankment, the man, the remark, their relationship perhaps. Deeply offended by the remark, she withdraws into an almost religious stoicism, leaving the reader with an ambivalent reference to “mad songs.” The conventional regret of lost love has been replaced by a much deeper pain, that of ridicule, and the poet suggests that her mad songs have come from men like the one who cannot see the poetry, only the woman.