Rita Dove's "Golden Oldie" and "Exit"
Rita Dove's two sonnets, "Golden Oldie" and "Exit," demonstrate the power of the American (innovative) sonnet. Without rime or a regular rhythm, these poems, nevertheless, capture two simple dramatic times in the life of a young woman at the beginning of journey through life.
(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.")
Rita Dove served as the United States poet laureate from 1993 to 1995.
Commentaries on "Golden Oldie" and "Exit"
I made it home early, only to get
stalled in the driveway-swaying
at the wheel like a blind pianist caught in a tune
meant for more than two hands playing.
The words were easy, crooned
by a young girl dying to feel alive, to discover
a pain majestic enough
to live by. I turned the air conditioning off,
leaned back to float on a film of sweat,
and listened to her sentiment:
Baby, where did our love go?-a lament
I greedily took in
without a clue who my lover
might be, or where to start looking.
The speaker of "Golden Oldie" is a young woman who has arrived home, "I made it home early," but upon hearing a song on the radio that she enjoys, she "get[s] / stalled in the driveway-swaying." She's still "at the wheel," and she is moving to the rhythm of the song while feeling stuck "like a blind pianist caught in a tune / meant for more than two hands playing."
The speaker then describes the singer of the tune as "a young girl dying to feel alive, to discover / a pain majestic enough / to live by." But in this description, the reader realizes that the speaker is describing herself instead of Diana Ross's lyrical persona.
In a latter section of the sonnet, the song is revealed by the words, "Baby, where did our love go?" The speaker then reports that she turns off the air conditioning, no doubt to hear the song better.
She leans back and despite the "film of sweat," she enjoys listening to the "lament," which she "greedily took in." Despite her identifying with this song, she finds some irony in the identification because she was "without a clue who my lover / might be, or where to start looking."
Just when hope withers, the visa is granted.
The door opens to a street like in the movies,
clean of people, of cats; except it is your street
you are leaving. A visa has been granted,
"provisionally"—a fretful word.
The windows you have closed behind
you are turning pink, doing what they do
every dawn. Here it's gray. The door
to the taxicab waits. This suitcase,
the saddest object in the world.
Well, the world's open. And now through
the windshield the sky begins to blush
as you did when your mother told you
what it took to be a woman in this life.
The speaker in Dove's "Exit" is also a young woman, but instead of reporting in first person, as did the speaker in "Golden Oldie," this speaker muses to herself using "you" as the poetic "self." She remarks that she has registered to obtain a "visa," indicating likely intentions of traveling out of her country of residence.
It is "[j]ust when hope withers, the visa is granted," she commences her musing. She senses that all of a sudden "[t]he door opens to a street like in the movies." That street while "clean of people, of cats" is her very own street.
The speaker seems to be somewhat anxious because of her upcoming journey. She reiterates, "A visa has been granted," but she further states that it has been granted "provisionally," calling the term a "fretful word."
Then, the speaker reports that she has closed windows that "behind you / are turning pink." She then states that they always do that "every dawn." Her mood is causing everything to seem "gray," while the taxi which will transport her to the airport awaits her. She claims that a piece of luggage is the "saddest object in the world." But then after she is on her way, she feels that "the world's open."
Then the speaker notices that the sky is transforming into pink as the sun comes up. She tellingly dramatizes the rising of the sun: "the sky begins to blush / as you did when your mother told you / what it took to be a woman in this life." At her journey begins, she senses just how lacking she is in worldly matters and ways of life; nevertheless, she appears to hold on to some hope that everything will eventually go well.
Dove Reading at the White House; Introduction by Barack Obama
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes