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Karen Connelly's "The Story"

Updated on December 13, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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.

Karen Connelly

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "The Story"

Connelly's "The Story" features an extended metaphor, comparing the living of life to swimming in the ocean, dramatized in four versagraphs.

Because the metaphor is so all-encompassing, as it indicts all of humanity in its scope, it loses some of its initial effectiveness. Some statements that contain absolutes can never be true. For example, "there is no absolute truth." If that statement is true, then it is also false, merely because it says so.

If all of humanity ("each of us / Will tell a story / Of scars"), and that statement remain without exception, then how will "scars" have become recognized as something undesirable? There must be individuals who have never experienced scars in order for the nature of scars to be known.

The ocean as a metaphor for life could work if limited to a personal account only, and not spread over all of humanity. Not all of us will actually tell a story of scars or how the deep, old, scary ocean is like our deep, old, scary life. Thus, a suggestion for reading this poem is, cognize the speaker as speaking to herself as she exaggerates that her claims apply to some amorphous "you." Shape that "you" into the speaker only, and the metaphor become much less objectionable.

And to the speaker I would admonish: realize that it is always a mistake to think that all of humanity is as narrow-minded and as physical-level focused as you are.

The Story

Eventually each of us
Will tell a story
Of scars and ocean
The way you never
Know what's in deeper water
While the seaweed shadows
Twist below you
And the slow fear
Fills your thin arms.

You know you are a fool
For having come this far.
You know you could never
Swim fast enough
In your mouth your heart
Dissolves like a holy tablet
Of salt.

In the end, it is
Only a drifting body
Of wood. Or a dolphin.

But what we own beyond a shadow
Of a doubt
Is our fear
Of being eaten
Alive, torn apart
In depths we have entered
Willingly.

Kiwanda Waves Crashing

Source

Commentary

First Versagraph: Leaping to the Amorphous Second Person

Eventually each of us
Will tell a story
Of scars and ocean
The way you never
Know what's in deeper water
While the seaweed shadows
Twist below you
And the slow fear
Fills your thin arms.

Referring to all of humanity in the third person, "Eventually each of us / will tell a story," the speaker makes the claim that at some point all humans are bound to recount a sorry tale of woe and of being overwhelmed with life's tribulations. Then switching to the vague and amorphous second person, "the way you never / know what's in deeper water," she compares that way-out feeling to the swimmer out at sea.

The speaker is metaphorically comparing the uncertainties of life to the uncertainties of what creatures may be swimming along with or underneath the ocean-swimmer. These uncertainties refer to the karmic debt we all have accumulated throughout our many lifetimes.

Second Versagraph: Swimming Too Far Out, Man!

You know you are a fool
For having come this far.
You know you could never
Swim fast enough
In your mouth your heart
Dissolves like a holy tablet
Of salt.

The speaker then says, "You know you are a fool / for having come this far." This accusation indicates that the swimmer has swum far beyond her limits, and this notion becomes a symbol for other foolish attempts that a person might choose, for example, mountain climbing, auto racing, or even traveling to foreign nations where one might encounter irreconcilable customs.

The sentiment of the lines, "You know you could never / swim fast enough," works for both parts of the metaphor. If a sea creature is coming after the ocean-swimmer, she might not be able to outpace it, and in life, if one bites off more than one can chew, one might find it difficult to swallow. The image of the heart in the mouth has the speaker transforming the heart into a "holy tablet / Of salt."

The heart-in-the-mouth, of course, demonstrates the extreme fear that has gripped the swimmer. That the speaker labels the tablet "holy" is a stunning contradiction, for the fear dramatized in this poem indicates that the principals are sadly without a religious or spiritual base. The purpose of any religious or spiritual pursuit is to eliminate the floundering-out-at-sea fear that is here portrayed so graphically.

Third Versagraph: Tortured Angst, Fear

In the end, it is
Only a drifting body
Of wood. Or a dolphin.

The speaker then drops the tortured scenario claiming that all that fear was invested for a "drifting body / Of wood. Or a dolphin." The angst turns out to be caused by innocuous entities. The swimmer, however, is able to identify these objects only upon reaching them, despite her fear.

Fourth Versagraph: The Mollification of Fear

But what we own beyond a shadow
Of a doubt
Is our fear
Of being eaten
Alive, torn apart
In depths we have entered
Willingly.

Despite the fact that humanity's fear has been mollified by the brief encounter with a wood-or-dolphin innocuity, individuals are left "own[ing]" their undiminished fear. The speaker emphasizes that claim as "beyond a "shadow / of a doubt." The fear of being "eaten / alive, torn apart" remains because the swimmer, representing humanity, is still out there in the depths. The ironic mystery of the situation is that they have "entered / Willingly."

But the nature of that willingness remains the cause of alarm: back when the members of humankind committed the act that would cause them great anguish, they did not know that anguish would eventually be their lot. Human beings are often lured by the promise of pleasure that turns out to have been nothing more than an entrapment that results in pain.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    9 months ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, Robin! Wishing you all the best. Good luck with your writing . . . Welcome to HubPages!

  • RobinReenters profile image

    Robin Carretti 

    9 months ago from Hightstown

    I love how you compiled your words of style and what it truly means you were explaining it so detailed and it sort of touched me with your tribulation

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    2 years ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, sujaya!

  • sujaya venkatesh profile image

    sujaya venkatesh 

    2 years ago

    a neat interpretation

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