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Louise Glück's "The Pond"

Updated on July 28, 2018
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Louise Glück

Source

Introduction and Text of "The Pond"

The piece, "The Pond," by former poet laureate Louise Glück consists of three free verse paragraphs (versgraph). The first versagraph displays five lines, while the second versagraph has eight lines, and the third holds six lines.

No rime interferes with any of the line groups, yet the reader could make an argument for several instances of accidental rimes: "small" in line three and "metal" in line five of the first versagraph could arguably be called rime, and if they were encountered in an otherwise rime-schemed poem, they would be called "slant" rimes.

In the second versagraph, lines 4-7 feature a rime that while it is without pattern and thus cannot be labeled a "rime scheme," the rime is undeniable: "gray," "graze," "wait," and "breastplates." A good case could reasonably be made for claiming "wing" in the first line of the first versagraph as a rime mate to "seeing" in the next to last line in the third versagraph. At first blush, it might seem off the mark to assign rimes to words that stand so far apart, but crafty poets often wade out into uncharted waters to dramatize their styles.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Pond

Night covers the pond with its wing.
Under the ringed moon I can make out
your face swimming among minnows and the small
echoing stars. In the night air
the surface of the pond is metal.

Within, your eyes are open. They contain
a memory I recognize, as though
we had been children together. Our ponies
grazed on the hill, they were gray
with white markings. Now they graze
with the dead who wait
like children under their granite breastplates,
lucid and helpless:

The hills are far away. They rise up
blacker than childhood.
What do you think of, lying so quietly
by the water? When you look that way I want
to touch you, but do not, seeing
as in another life we were of the same blood.

Commentary

The speaker in this poem is dramatizing a possible childhood trauma. It features a bird's wing that covers a small body of water and includes a spirit stinging her memory.

First Versagraph: The Bird of Night

Night covers the pond with its wing.
Under the ringed moon I can make out
your face swimming among minnows and the small
echoing stars. In the night air
the surface of the pond is metal.

In the first versagraph, the speaker begins by metaphorically transfiguring "Night" into a bird. This bird called "Night" is "cover[ing] the pond with its wing." The bird has only one wing over the pond, and the speaker never divulges where the other wing is, or even where the bird is standing as its solitary wing drapes itself over the pond. At this point the reader might begin a suspicion that the pond is, perhaps, not really a pond, but something else entirely, but said reader must put off such suspicions until such time as the speaker will make her claims clear. As the speaker continues, she reveals that she is, in fact, addressing another person, who is "swimming among minnows and the small / echoing stars."

The speaker sees this person "under the ringed moon," that is, she "can make out / [the other person's] face swimming," in the pond. Then the speaker says that the "surface of the pond is metal." The reader readily understands this as metaphor, and then thinks back to that bird's wing that is covering the pond, and remembers that suspicion that the pond might not be a pond but perhaps something else entirely, and thinks that maybe the pond is the hood of an automobile. The hood of an automobile would be smaller and more amenable to a bird's wing's cover, but then the reader realizes there is no real evidence for this: still there is only one wing, and still no place where the bird could stand. Perhaps it is better to leave this as a mixed metaphor and move on.

Second Versagraph: A Fantastic Claim

Within, your eyes are open. They contain
a memory I recognize, as though
we had been children together. Our ponies
grazed on the hill, they were gray
with white markings. Now they graze
with the dead who wait
like children under their granite breastplates,
lucid and helpless:

Then the speaker makes a fabulous claim: she sees the open eyes of someone which hold a "memory" that the speaker can see and senses that the two of them had shared a childhood. That the speaker could have actually seen this other person, whom she is addressing, swimming among minnows is positively amazing, and it is night-time also, which limits vision. But now the reader understands her powers of sight because she is seeing right through this person. She sees right through to his/her memory, and the person is thinking about when they were "children together."

This sight reminds the speaker that they both had ponies that used to graze on "the hill" and they ponies were "gray / with white markings." But the ponies have died now with everyone else who has died, yet they continue to "wait" under tombstones which she colorfully calls "granite breastplates." Oddly, these ponies, apparently like the other waiting folks, remains "lucid and helpless." The speaker is put in mind of the nightmares that frightened her, when she was a young child. The speaker then becomes suspicious that she might have suffered a trauma in her childhood.

Third Versagraph: Changing the Subject

The hills are far away. They rise up
blacker than childhood.
What do you think of, lying so quietly
by the water? When you look that way I want
to touch you, but do not, seeing
as in another life we were of the same blood.

The speaker then, inexplicably, changes the subject to the faraway hills. She has them ris[ing] up", which is an obtuse redundancy—"rise up"—has anything ever risen "down"? But she describe those rising hills as "blacker than childhood." The speaker seems to have flashed back to a troubled childhood. And then she poses a question to the other person, whom she has been addressing, presumably, all along; although, at times her musing seems to wander off from the addressee to perhaps her own self-mocking. She asks him/her about his/her thoughts as they lay quiet "by the water."

The question would sound innocent enough, but then she shocks the reader with what can only be interpreted as the reason for her nightmares: "When you look that way I want / to touch you, but do not, seeing / as in another life we were of the same blood." The speaker realizes that her urge might represent an unholy aversion, and she drops off her narrative, without ever clearing up the problem of the other wing of the bird and where he stood as his one wing covered the pond.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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