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(Poetry for Students)

Liz Waldner’s “Witness” is the final poem in the fifth section (“Triangle”) of Waldner’s Euclidian-inspired A Point Is That Which Has No Part
(2000), following sections named “Point,” “Line,” “Circle,” and “Square.” Developing an extended metaphor that likens the coming of dawn (and the new day) to a wild horse, “Witness” exemplifies what is strongest in Waldner’s poetry: diction, intellectualism, and an appreciation of science and nature. The combination of poetry and science characterizes much of Waldner’s poetry. In her later work Saving the Appearances (2004), for instance, she uses Plato’s idea, which was later applied by Copernicus, that there is a fundamental spirit that links the empirical world (its appearances) and the revelations it causes.


(Poetry for Students)

Lines 1–2

The title of “Witness” identifies the subject at hand as bearing witness to an event (in this case, the appearance of a comet). The opening words of the poem, “I saw,” stated in the past tense, indicate that the witnessed moment happened in the past and now remains clear in memory.

In the first couplet, readers are also asked to bear witness to the initiation of a metaphor that has both empirical and philosophical connotations. A “star” is compared to a horse breaking the rope that has kept it confined to “the stables.” The rope of dust streams from the comet in the direction away from the Sun which it orbits. Without gravity the Earth (the speaker’s vantage point) would not be held together as one sphere, and its orbit would not be fixed by its attraction to the Sun. Gravity affects locations of heavenly bodies and how and why they can be viewed by the speaker from the Earth. The speaker’s imagination is shaped, then, by both the physical laws of the universe and by the poet’s inclination to use metaphoric language.

Lines 3–4

Moving beyond its former location in the orbit/stable, the star/horse is imagined as “homeless.” It appears dislocated and moving. The speaker asserts that the star/horse will find another “home.” This new home is identified both in terms of time (“a green century”) and space (“the foothills”). She gives a poetic version of the more complicated concept which physicists call spacetime. The anxiety associated with “homelessness” is counterbalanced by the comfort of knowing that the coordinates involved can determine future location. The idea that the star will settle in a new century suggests that it is actually a comet traveling its elliptical orbit around the Sun, which accounts for why the comet is visible from Earth for a certain period and then appears again at a distant time in the future.

In this couplet, too, the freed star/horse is described as female, which gives Waldner’s metaphor another dimension. “Witness” becomes a poem that is about viewing a heavenly body that is described as a star, a horse, and a woman.

Lines 5–8

The third and fourth couplets form two sentences and can be treated together. Line 5 and 6 refer to space and time in new ways. The one “who sleeps besides still waters, wakes”; and “terrestrial hands” (human hands and the hands of a clock) mark the...

(The entire section is 804 words.)