Human interactions occur within a culturally defined environment and language only gets meaning to people through cultural lenses. First interactions are often characterized by abstract meanings and vague symbolism because background differences, particularly between cultures, can pervade effective concord (Faulkner 11). Both James Longenbach and Silvia Curbelo’s poems are full of abstractions that symbolize diverse interpretations that people can derive from everyday experiences seen from a strange eye view. The two poems, “Orphic Night” and “Fall,” written by Longenbach and Curbelo, respectively, open our eyes to new abstractions that can be drawn from familiar everyday events. For instance, the falling snow may be a familiar experience but may also solicit very diverse interpretations and meanings for people from a different culture or location where falling snow is hardly experienced. The two poets give a poetic touch to experiences people are familiar with, which creates a completely new experience and feeling about them like a first interaction.
In Orphic Night, Longenbach describes feelings and imagination that is seemingly alien and bewildering with ambient awe, but it is all experience reflected in memory. He talks of the absence of perspective and everything certain only in memory. The poem delves into experiences and feelings that scaffold a flimsy reality, which can only be accessed in the imagery and symbolisms that carefully cascade every line of the poem (Bakker 12). In a sense, the persona addresses a lover who is concealed until the last line in the poem when it is revealed in the longing to have lover everlasting. The last line asserts, “…and I knew we would be lovers forever.” This is not a real relationship because, from the very beginning, the persona is dealing with bewildering feelings and a deep sense of empty longing for something inaccessible.
Curbelo’s poem “Fall” paints a picture of the season “Fall” but exhibits numeracy of objects falling to reveal the intricate aspects of the season. The only way to access the distinction of the type of Fall expressed in the poem is to analyze the myriad imagery and symbolisms the poet has used. She describes the Fall as “the vestige of some elemental language suspended in space.” One immediately begins to understand that the Fall has more to do with cosmic rhythms and patterns of seasonal change closely associated with the season of Fall. Most of the figurative language deployed by the poet point to some phenomenon of weather or climate because she talks of the falling leaves, new snow falling, wind after a storm, clouds in the distance, and the rain.
The two poems introduce us to a new world of strange places and unfamiliar sounds and sights, which the persona interacts with, and we can only try to relate if we explore their unique cultural lenses. As the title suggests in Orphic Night, Longenbach introduces us to a walk through the darkness in which the persona only has a clear and vivid memory of visions and experiences (Iyengar 462). It is a sense of loneliness that drives the persona to experience the strange feelings and sensations out of nothing but memories of fond weather. In the same manner, the “Fall” is a reminiscence of someone describing a season or weather with its unique attributes that can be both perplexing and confounding in myriad ways. Curbelo personifies the rain as “sinking its small bright teeth into the earth.” The description sounds like the rain was eating the earth because rain always changes the ground and disrupts a lot of activity that would happen in sunny weather. It is perplexing how the persona describes the rain and immediately refuses the same descriptions to offset the continuity of our imagination. She says, “It was not rain… not a stone…though I could feel the weight of it.” The continuum of our imagination into the weather condition is suddenly disrupted because stones do not fall from the sky and perhaps the persona is talking about snowfall.
Familiar situations and interactions can be very protracted when portrayed in a unique manner through the immersion of deep imagination and creative thinking. The two poets have done a great deal of work to embody commonplace aspects of the weather through an imaginative mind to take us through aspects that baffle and confound our planar world view of the ordinary and familiar to an extraordinary and grotesque portrayal of the same aspects of the weather. A walk through the night can be a very exciting thing when one recounts of the bright face of the moon in the sky dotted with millions of stars. Nevertheless, it could be scary and strange when one recounts the reflected image of the moon refracted on the water and “…Pried open, green, a pair of eyes.” The strange night with eyes looking into our very own like a monster can be scary. Orphic night thus makes for an experience we silently never want to encounter.
Both poems capture the essential complexity and uncertainty that has secretly crept into the culture of the post-modern western society created by the ceaseless innovation and scientific progress. Society is no longer a unidirectional and planar scene of the Newtonian worldview but a relativistic arena with endemic duality and countercurrents. It is this essential post-modern view manifesting complexity that both poets have struggled so skillfully to give a delicate depiction. Curbelo describes the Fall through the lens of objects and feelings rather than plainly in the ordinary sense of a season. In the same manner, Longenbach paints a picture of a walk through the night as a very scary and strange experience than we readily admit. Night walks are associated with risks but not the kind of risks the persona encounters. Longenbach describes the refracted face of the moon and the double green eyes that conjure images of monstrous creatures typical of horror scenes. Both Curbelo and Longenbach are contemporary poets whose keen observation and immense creativity has captured a glimpse of what can be depicted as futurism and post-modernism.
From the first line in Longenbach’s poem, one can notice some deeply laid anguish that characterizes the OrphicNight. The absence of perspective announces to the readers that something ominous is in the offing. The third last stanza is even more revealing because the persona is faced with obvious jeopardy. The line reads, “Longing but the need… To look away: I turned.” Desires that cannot be fulfilled leave people distraught and in great anguish, particularly when they are alone and in darkness. The combination of a lonely place and darkness is a perfect recipe for despair. Curbelo also treats the readers to a strange experience of a weather or season that cannot make the persona comfortable because it is hard to fathom the very nature of the strange season with everything falling. The persona could hear his “own name softly falling…a shining falling thing like a coin.” Such grotesque descriptions of the situation uproot us from regular patterns of civilization and its many socialized patterns of preserving and creating shared meaning.
In conclusion, through a very keen wit and sense of word choice, both Curbelo and Longenbach have treated to new experiences and new interactions with nature in manners strange to culture. The grotesque imagery of and symbolisms in the two poems can give us a glimpse into the complexity and uncertainty that color our post-modern literary tropes that have emerged in the era of relativity. The two poets embody free-ranging sensibility and rich imaginative honesty that has breathed new life in the uniquely poised post-modern poetry in the contemporary order of uncertainty and incessant complexity.
Bakker, Egbert J. Poetry in speech: orality and Homeric discourse. Cornell University Press, 2018.
Faulkner, Sandra L. Poetic inquiry: Craft, method and practice. Routledge, 2019.
Iyengar, Sunil. “A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry by Gregory Orr, and: How Poems Get Made by James Longenbach.” The Hopkins Review 12.3 (2019): 460-464.