Thepurpose of this paper is to interpret and analyze two poems accordingto the principles of New Criticism. New Criticism asks us to use thetext itself as the complete and only source for interpretation. “Thetext itself” became the battle cry of the New Critical effort tofocus our attention on the literary work as the sole source ofevidence for interpreting it.” (Tyson 1999)
Ihave chosen the following two poems for my interpretive literarycriticism
Evening Song by Tom Andrews
Carrying On like a Crow by Charles Simic
Iwill begin by interpreting them individually, and then move on tofind out common threads between the two poems before arriving at myfinal thoughts.
Thetitle is a clear indication of the time, when the story plays out.‘Evening’ is a time when a person would sit down and think aboutthe events that have transpired during the day. Based on the line‘What was it my brother said to me once’ (Andrews line 3), itlooks like the speaker has a brother, and he is mentioned in pasttense, meaning the brother is dead. This is also further reaffirmedwith the line ‘…before he disappeared that spring’ (Andrewsline 4).
Sofar, we know that the speaker is alone, and that his brother hisgone. As the poem progresses, it is clear that speaker had some kindof a fight with his brother. They did not part on good terms. It isalso possible that he never really cared for his brother. However,now that he is gone, he is really beginning to miss him.
Thepoem references a variety of events that indicate everything beingextremely quiet – crickets, robins gossiping and sun down. Thingsare quiet when there is no one to talk to. When the speaker’sbrother was around, he would clearly spend time with him and talk tohim. Things were the opposite of quietness, they actually were loud.Being loud could mean that they were having fights fights that wenton forever. It also seems like the brother was the more mature one.The speaker is thinking of all the advice the brother would give.Since the speaker is thinking about the advice, it looks like heregrets not following them. Now that he’s gone, he is really upset.
Thepoem is not high on rhyming words. For instance, there are no rhymingwords in the first stanza. There are, however, some rhyming pairs -spring, burning and unknowing – poplars and lawns. The poem simplydoes make use of rhymes that effectively. The lack of rhyming wordscould be an indication of the current state of mind of the speaker.He is bereaved and does not feel happy, and rhyming is usually anindication of happiness.
Thepoem references the book Cloudof Unknowing,which is about Christian mysticism. The book talks about giving upego and becoming a better person. ‘He was reading from TheCloud of Unknowing’(Andrews line 7) this is another indication that the speaker didindeed suffer from a huge ego. There are several rhetorical questionsthat come out of this poem: Did that ego make him not take hisbrothers advice? Is that why, there were constant clashes between thespeaker and his brother. It is possible that the brother neverapproved of the way the speaker led his life.
Thereis also a reference to moonlight shining on the neighbor’s lawn.This is odd because moonlight shines on everybody, sort of like rain,especially in a single neighborhood. Moonlight brings happiness andsmoothness. Perhaps, this is a reference to family and how soothingit is to be part of a family. The speaker’s only family was hisbrother ‘Moonlight wormed through the neighboring lawn’ (Andrewsline 10), and he is now passed on.
Inthe last line of the poem, the speaker is asking for help. Now thathis brother is gone, he has no idea what to do next. His brotherbeing the mature one probably took care of everything. ‘Mothsspiraled across the uncut grass’ (Andrews line 9). Moths grow whenthe lawn has not been taken care of. The moths might be either anindication that the speaker is probably not good with takingresponsibilities or brother took care of everything.
Theoverall tone of the poem is that of sadness. There is, however, nomention of the speaker trying to get his brother back. The referencesto god, prayer, clouds and moonlight, all point to a possibility thatperhaps, his brother left permanently, never to return. The speakeris grieving that his brother is gone, and that is why he makes noattempt to get him back.
CarryingOn like a Crow
Thetitle is conversational in nature, like when someone is chidinganother person. For instance, if someone (younger) was seen simplylounging on the lawn instead of working, an elder person would go asay, ‘you are wasting time like a dog’. When the speaker says,like a crow, he is probably chiding another person, a younger person,for acting like a crow. It is possible that the speaker is a woman,and she could be scolding her lazy husband.
Thefirst line gives us a clue that the speaker is the person withauthority. ‘Areyou authorized to speak’ (Simic line 1). This is why the speaker isasking the other person, if he should be speaking at all. In otherwords, the other person has done something wrong by either beinglazy, like a crow or by doing nothing worthwhile.
Theentire poem is one long series of monologue. There are questions inevery two lines, and each question is followed by a comparison tosome real life event. There are references to things that are fromeveryday life – laundry, dark clouds (when it’s about to rain),fallen leaves (strong winds that also precede heavy rainfall), beercan, swing set and of course the titular crow. The setting of thestory is that of a regular household.
Basedon the household setting, the references to authority, it looks likewe are dealing with two characters – an angry wife and a meekhusband, who seems like the playful kind. There are lots ofreferences to him being playful and also irresponsible. At one point,the poem refers to a man’s shirt and a woman’s nightgown. Both ofthese indicate a husband and wife relationship.
Thereare lots of references to weather elements and it looks like it isabout to rain. The strong winds that come before this rain are aboutto blow away their clothes. The wife (who is probably doing householdwork in the house) assumed that her husband would pick up the clothesoff the dryer. ‘With a man’s shirt and a woman’s nightgown Lefton the laundry line’ (Simic line 5-6) that has not happened and itis the reason why she is asking him about the fate of those clothes,if they were to be blown away.
Theline ‘the swing set in the widow’s yard’ (Simic line 13), givesus clues to two things. One, it tells us that the husband is aplayful kind of person. It is also possible that he is a veryenergetic individual, who is simply lazy. Then, there is thereference to the ‘widow’. A widow is an unmarried woman and maybe, the wife is not sure about her husband’s faithfulness. Perhapsthe wife thinks that the husband is cheating on her with the widow.The large amount of finding fault in her husband also indicates somesort of mistrust.
Asthe poem draws to a close, the wife has pretty much given up on herhusband. She drives the point home (to her husband) by asking him todo some introspection. Does he think he is doing the right thing? Healso has a drinking problem ‘To look at the beer can in a ditch’(Simic line 11), which is something she is not happy about either.Eventually, she settles by comparing him to a crow, an animal thathas no usefulness and is usually seen loitering around.
Betweenthese two poems, the common thread that was found was aboutresponsibility. Along with this, both the poems had two charactersone was lazy and irresponsible while the other was responsible andmature. There is a lot of interplay between these two characters.
Inthe first poem, the speaker is the person who has finally realizedhis folly. He regrets not learning anything from his brother. Thesecond poem, the speaker is the authority’s figure who is tryinghard to get the lazy person to become better. In the first poem, thespeaker and the person at fault, was grieving moreover, he hadrealized his mistakes and was looking to make amends to becomebetter. The second poem though, the immature person is not learninganything. There is no indication that the words of the authorityfigure are having any effect on the irresponsible person.
Thereis also the way the authority figures in the two poems areapproaching their targets. In the first poem, there was a strongusage of prayer, and hence religion. It is a no-nonsense approach tohelping someone. Reach out to their religious beliefs and bring aboutchange. In the second story, there is no religion at all. Theauthority figure is mostly scolding the person. Furthermore, there isa strong hint of sarcasm which does not go unnoticed.
Thetwo poems have been interpreted using the new criticism technique.This technique is about using the poem as the only source ofinterpretation (Tyson 1999).
Thepoems I have chosen deal with the two characters interacting witheach other about responsibilities. The first is about grieving,whereas the second is about an angry person teaching someresponsibilities. In the first poem, there is a strong overtone ofreligion. The second one is filled with disappointment, mistrust andalso sarcasm.
Thefirst poem uses sparing use of the rhymes, indicating sadness. Thisseems to be the case considering the situation. However, the secondpoem makes extensive use of rhymes, almost every second line. Thisshows a lot of energy, and a stronger emotion of anger filledthroughout.
Tyson,Lois. "New Critical Theory." Critical TheoryToday: A User-friendly Guide.New York: Garland Pub., 1999. Print.
Johnston,William. TheCloud of Unknowing.New York: Fordham UP, 2000. Print.
Simic,Charles. CarryingOn like a Crow.