David Palatinus: On "Anthropomorphism and Spectrality in Plath"

The box is locked, it is dangerous.[1]

I have to live with it overnight

And I can’t keep away from it.

There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.

There is only a little grid, no exit.


Chase, Cynthia. “Giving a Face to a Name: de Man’s Figures.” In Decomposing Figures: Rhetorical Readings in The Romantic Tradition, 82-112. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.

Culler, Jonathan. “Apostrophe.” In The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction, 149-171. London: Routledge, 1992.

de Man, Paul. “Autobiography as Defacement.” In The Rhetoric of Romanticism, 67-82. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

Louise Glück: On "Dream Song 1"

Implicit in the idea of the lyric is the single voice. Berryman’s primary disruption of the lyric is the fracturing of voice. From poem to poem the paradigm varies: minstrel shows, schizophrenia, psychoanalysis, But always one persona taking over for another, taking the stage: these are noisy poems – shattered, voluble, fragmented, desperate, dramatic, futile. The intense purpose characteristic of the lyric becomes, in Berryman, intense cross-purposes. …

… The poem begins with two lines of report: our speaker is someone who knows Henry from the outside ("huffy" being descriptive of behavior) and from the inside ("Unappeasable"). Reasonable, then, to presume that the central figure – with a curious detachment that contains the internalized perpetual reproach of a parent – here describes himself. … If Henry, in lines one and two, is the speaker, the guiding or prevailing intelligence, then who is the "I" of line three? Friendly to the cause, adult, capable of entertaining several ideas at once ("his point" suggests the many other angles already considered). A reader encountering the first person tends to identify that pronoun with a poem’s central intelligence. But the problem in The Dream Songs, the drama of the poems, is the absence of a firm self. …

… [T]he ruminative tone of the third line suggests that its commentary may go on. In fact, it doesn’t: the "I" is immediately absorbed into the intimate childish rancors of lines four and five. "Do it" means do to: it is all things done to Henry against Henry’s unknown, unknowable best interests. The very idea, which is actually Henry’s, that others have such power is enough to send Henry into violent hiding. The power is vague because its agents are hazy. What exists is a sense of victimization, of jeopardy, but it is never particularly explicit. In fact, so well does Henry hide himself that, ultimately, he can’t find where he is either.

….The last line of the first stanza is the line of fate: he should have. He didn’t. Spoken by the mother, her head shaking sadly.

… But there’s a surprising turn in stanza three, surprising and heartbreaking. Who says "Once in a sycamore I was glad / all at the top, and I sang"? This is an "I" different from the "I" of stanza one, who sees. Or the "I" of stanza two, who doesn’t see. This is engagement, not commentary. This is a whole being, in behavior spontaneous, Henry-like, but in tone, calm. The Dream Songs search for such wholeness.


From Louise Glück, "Disruption, Hesitation, Silence" in Proofs & Theories (New York: Ecco, 1994), 77-78. Copyright 1994 by Louis Gluck

Mutlu Konuk Blasing: On "In the Waiting Room"

"In the Waiting Room," then, properly tells or narrates the "growth of a poet's mind." The poet originates in the recognition of her separation from, and identity with, her world, at once finding and losing her "self." Her birth or awakening comes with a scream from inside the dentist's office that is also the voice of the child in the waiting room, since "inside" says "either." When the child produces her explanation, she is a poet:

How—I didn't know any word for it—how "unlikely" . . . 

To explain an identity in nature, she finds the word "unlikely"; the perception of sameness is unlikely, because it is more than a likeness or likely. If all accounts of phenomena are likely stories only, the breach that gives birth to the poet is an origin that both is and is unlikely. This is also the breach of metaphor—unlikely identities. The scream, which is not "like" the child's voice but is hers all the same, signals a birth into natural identity and an unlikely language. For one's identity, one's sameness with and difference from others and objects, comes to be adequately revealed in the unlikely likenesses of metaphoric language. If there is an "inside" or a primal source that is glimpsed in the child's vertiginous insight, it is covered up or "framed" by the conspiracy of common sense, "objective" facts, and grammar—of nature and poetry: "You are an I, / you are anElizabeth, / You are one of them." And the source disclosed in the grammatical cleavage of "you are an I" is not a luminous star but nothingness itself, "cold, blue-black space," split by a cry—"an oh! of pain"—that might have been ours.


James Dougherty on One's Self I Sing from Walt Whitman and the Citizen’s Eye

The 1855 "Song of Myself" had announced that the "word of the modern" was "a word en masse," and eventually Whitman would revise this 1867 Inscription to affirm that "En-Masse" was also "the word Democratic." In a modern, democratic society, as Tocqueville had said, no intermediate allegiances stand between the individual citizen and the entire body politic. The Self is indeed separate, isolated; it has renounced party and creed and local custom, all mediating bodies that provide a system of preference or exclusion.