Hugh Kenner: On "The Young Sycamore"

. . .each phrase reaches forward. From line 3 to line 7 we are drawn past unit after unit of attention by the promise of a verb to fulfill "whose trunk"; then granted that verb but still waiting for the structure initiated by "this young tree" to declare itself, we press on, alerted (by "into the air with") that the dependent clause continues. "And then," a major structural node, undertakes yet a further dependent verb; the poem rushes on--

[Finally there is] No full stop, because no termination for the tree's energies; but the poem, an eye's upward scan, is over. We have been carried through it by essentially narrative devices: from "I must tell you" through suspensions and delays to "and then," past vignettes and episodes ("hung with cocoons") to "till nothing is left of it but"; and the terminal episode still secretes hidden force: "bending forward hornlike at the top." The poem's system is that of a short story.

But the system contains energies left unaccounted, for the main clause it undertook with the words "this young tree" was never completed. Though the whole poem has explicated this young tree, this young tree's syntactic circuit remains open. We may associate this unequilibrated energy with the poet's headlong generosity ("I must tell you . . ."), as though something had nevertheless escaped the telling. Or we may rhyme it with the failure of the trunk's gesture ("dividing and waning," after the integrated thrust that rose "bodily"). For to rise bodily is to levitate. This levitation was an illusion, the trunk's vigor abetted by the poet's enthusiasm. The tree remains, we discover, tied to earth, toward which it bends back divided. The sentence arches, unarticulated, into ideal space.

From The Pound Era. Copyright © 1971 by Hugh Kenner.

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Criticism Overview
Title Hugh Kenner: On "The Young Sycamore" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Hugh Kenner Criticism Target William Carlos Williams
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 18 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The Pound Era
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