The Poets

September 07, 2010

With Regards to My August 25th Post

On Wednesday the 25th of August I posted a poem that I promised to elaborate on; a poem that was intentionally structured to be as ambiguous as I could make it. Here’s that poem:

On the Brink

He clamped that heavy weapon tight
And aimed that steel that seemed a ton
And just before a life was done
A humming bird was in his sight

“Draw down son, and be at peace”
It said in syllables divine
“Don’t you know that this is mine”
To which his hand gave quick release

Of the Poem (An Explanation)

As I mentioned when I first posted this, one of the primary things I wanted to do with this poem was to make it as ambiguous as possible.

From one perspective the poem may seem to speak of a suicidally minded person who, consumed perhaps by an indelible depression, wants to end his life (hence the weapon, the gun). Fortunately, something intervenes and thwarts this attempt, and he drops the weapon … or so one would think.

It seems obvious enough, right: he grabs a weapon (line 1) and aims it, perhaps at his head (line 2), and just before he pulls the trigger (line 3) something intervenes (lines 4 through 7) and causes him to drop (release, line 8) the gun.

But there’s too many assumptions being made to render this conclusion. First of all it says he “aimed that steel that seemed a ton” … nothing suggests that he aimed it at himself. Rather than speaking of a suicidally minded person, perhaps it speaks of one plotting the death of another? So the former conclusion would just have to be altered so that it’s no longer dealing with one wishing to end his life, but rather the life of another (but this, as was said, is merely a possible interpretation, an assumption).

We’ll come back to the representation of the humming bird in just a moment; but before we do, let’s take a brief look at the concluding line of the poem.

Assuming that there was an intervening element that hoped to prevent the discharge of that weapon, it’s not quite clear whether the man fired it off or tossed it away, for it is only said that, in response to the intervening factor, that “his hand gave quick release.” One assumes he discards the weapon, but this can easily be interpreted as his releasing a bullet from the chamber (perhaps in defiance of the intervening voice).

As was said above, all this ambiguity was intentional. It was hard to figure out how to approach it, but I think I achieved it, for (as I see it) there are at minimal four possible interpretations:

1: A man picks up a weapon intending to end his life, but something intervenes and causes him to drop the weapon.

2: A man picks up a weapon intending to end someone’s life, but something intervenes and causes him to drop the weapon.

3: A man picks up a weapon intending to end his life, but something intervenes and, despite that intervention, he obstinately discharges the weapon.

4: A man picks up a weapon intending to end someone’s life, but something intervenes and, despite that intervention, he obstinately discharges the weapon.

There were a few excellent interpretations that were left in the comments area of that post. The comment left by Obiterspeak, for example, was very similar to the scenario explained in the first interpretation above, and the one that more readily pops into my mind when I read it.

devangini's “humble attempt” at an interpretation was in my view utterly incredible, a view shared by my neighbor: that is, that the poem spoke of a hunter ravaging nature with his weapons of destruction until nature, in the form of a hummingbird, rebukes his activities. Awesome stuff.

Da other Part of 'Zo gave two great perspectives. The one, again like Obiterspeak’s rendering, is very similar to the example explained in the first interpretation above. The other, well, is really deep; check it out:

This piece could symbolize the end of a certain characteristic or way of life a person has been living. They are contemplating if they want to continue in that current lifestyle and refer to their religious/spiritual beliefs or affliations for guidance. In the end, they choose to give it up.

Tell me that’s not cool.

Inasmuch as the symbol of the hummingbird is concerned, well, it’s less than ambiguous. As mentioned above, it’s obvious that it’s an intervening aspect. The truth is that as I was scripting the poem out the idea of an angelic presence was persistent in my mind. There are some hints to this if you read close; the main ones being lines 5 through 7.

Take line 6 as an example. It says that this hummingbird spoke in syllables divine.

Syllables are an obvious reference to the poem in general, but more specifically it refers to the poem's meter. The entire poem essentially consists of 8 syllables per line- that is, until one reads lines 5 and 7 … those lines have a seven syllable count. Why seven?- because the symbolic representation of the number seven carries with it a sacred connotation. It is the intervening voice of an angel (or the Lord) speaking from an aspect that is heavenly and pure, sacred and holy.

Finally we have the single most symbolic and ambiguous word of the entire poem:

Don’t you know that this is mine

What is the reference here? What is this this? This was intentional, and- hopefully not to your grief- I’ve chosen to let its mystery persist without explanation. What do you think it is?

Anyhow, there you have it. All apologies for the delay in response. Thanks for stopping by- and thanks for those awesome comments!


John W. May said...

By the way, if you haven’t, I highly suggest you check out the links to the pages of those that commented on the poem … the poetic talent of these guys- and I don’t say this lightly- the poetic talent of these guys is beyond reproach. Their sites, which I visit often, are incredibly inspiring and utterly worth the time. These are our modern poets- I implore you, bask and revel in their works.

Vennie said...

this is amazing. i love the hummingbird. i have one tattooed on my right inner arm. It was my mother's favorite bird, and I'll tell you, the day we buried her in 2007, a butterfly followed right beside our car on the way out of the cemetary as tears flowed down my cheeks. As we exited the cemetary, the butterfly flew off, and there, hovering beside the entrance was a hummingbird, and I laughed, because I knew it was her.

Love this, John. You're an amazing writer, and I felt this very deeply.


very powerfully written - love the brink! and reading of your thought processes behind it! great post -

John W. May said...

Thanks, ladies.

Beautiful story about the hummungbird, Vennie; and thank you so much for the encouragement, Gypsywoman.

As of April 9th, 2010