Analysis of Poem "The Partial Explanation" by Charles Simic

Updated on December 23, 2017
chef-de-jour profile image

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Charles Simic
Charles Simic | Source

Charles Simic and The Partial Explanation

The Partial Explanation is, in many respects, a classic Charles Simic poem. It has the everyday, it has mystery, it has a hint of danger. All three are elements common to many of his poems.

Yet, he is also known for creating works that are perceived as surreal in nature, or that at least display an alternative view of life, that walk on the wild side occasionally. He is attracted to folklore, fairy tale and dreamscapes, which is why he has written on artists such as Hieronymus Bosch and Joseph Cornell.

For all this, Simic, himself, says, "I'm a hard-nosed realist." Which is difficult to understand given his subject matter. Perhaps this statement is rooted in his rather unusual start in life. Born in 1938 in Belgrade, he lived through the horrors of the Nazis and the Second World war as a child, only escaping to America when he was eleven years old.

Simic also said, "Poetry is a place where all the fundamental questions are asked about the human condition." And it is this that best encapsulates his approach to poetry - he seeks to learn about what it is to be human by exploring what lies within the psyche. So it is that he focuses on dreams, darkness, memory, history, day to day happenings and his own personal store of experience.

  • The Partial Explanation gives the reader a snapshot into the mind of what seems to be a lonely person, someone looking to make contact, who is almost desperate for social interaction.
  • As the poem progresses a subtle tension builds, the narrative creating this rather gloomy scene which could come straight out of an Edward Hopper painting. It's up to the reader to complete the picture, to think of a context - the explanation - for this individual's reason to exist.

The Partial Explanation

Seems like a long time
Since the waiter took my order.
Grimy little luncheonette,
The snow falling outside.

Seems like it has grown darker
Since I last heard the kitchen door
Behind my back
Since I last noticed
Anyone pass on the street.

A glass of ice-water
Keeps me company
At this table I chose myself
Upon entering.

And a longing,
Incredible longing
To eavesdrop
On the conversation
Of cooks.

Analysis

The Partial Explanation takes the reader straight into the speaker's thoughts and feelings. The first two lines set the scene: here is a person waiting too long for the food to arrive, thinking to themselves that they have been ignored or neglected.

That tentative word Seems....it only seems like a long time. The speaker hasn't mentioned looking at a watch or a clock to gauge the actual time, there is only a feeling inside. And maybe one or two questions pushing to the surface - Where is my food? Have I been forgotten?

The third line brings hard reality into the poemscape. This is no plush restaurant, this is a low budget kind of place, not too clean. The speaker uses observation and judgement to give the reader a visual context and to create an atmosphere.

The fact that the individual has been kept waiting long enough to notice that the place is grimy doesn't send out positive vibes. Just the opposite. Did he know beforehand that the luncheonette would be grimy? Or is he new to the place and already disappointed with it and himself?

To make matters worse, snow is falling outside. Falling snow is traditionally, arguably, a romantic kind of thing to be happening. We might be reminded of the festive season for example, of Christmassy days and celebrations. Of a white Christmas. But the speaker doesn't seem to be in a festive mood. The snow only tells us that it is winter and it is cold.

  • The second stanza starts with a repeat Seems...this is not quite deja vu but it is a sign that the speaker's situation is becoming gloomier. He's noticing the dark, either inside or outside, or both, and this dark is linked directly to the sound of the swinging door leading to the kitchen.

This guy, this individual, is feeling more and more isolated. Note the line endings in this second stanza, all enjambed, no punctuation to pause things or slow the thoughts down. And another repeat, Since...only prolongs the feeling of loneliness.

This is a deserted scene. Even the pavements are empty. Just what is this person up to? Where have they come from?

  • The third stanza concentrates all of this chilliness into an object - a glass of ice-water - and ironically the speaker thinks it is keeping him company. He must be in desperate straits if he thinks ice is a soul warmer!

He's down on his luck, with misgivings here, there and everywhere. His choice of dining, his choice from the menu, his choice of table, his choice to have his back against the kitchen. His choice to create this tragi-comic scene.

But what sort of world has he come in from? What sort of world does he still inhabit if he thinks that choosing a table is worth even a mention? Why is that particular choice of such importance? It seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

This person longs for a crumb of personal comfort. If he could just hear what the cooks in the kitchen are saying about him, his order, which they've cooked but burnt so are having to recook it. Or perhaps the waiter is the cook and he has his own issues to think about?

The cooks are talking but what are they talking about? If he could only be a fly on the wall. The speaker wants to know because he's becoming a little paranoid. This individual's world is only partially explained. It's up to the reader to provide the rest of the story.

More Analysis

The Partial Explanation is a short poem of four stanzas, split into two quatrains and two cinquains (or pentains), making 18 lines in total.

It is a free verse poem, having no rhyme scheme or regular meter (metre in British English).

On the page it seems to gradually fade away, the lines contracting, struggling to maintain their length, as the poem progresses. Perhaps this reflects the growing feeling of isolation for the speaker, who seems to be ignored at his chosen table.

Repetition

There are three examples of repetition - Seems like (x2), Since (x3) and longing (x2). All of these add to the monotony and build up of tension as the speaker sits there waiting for service.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Andrew Spacey

    Comments

    Submit a Comment

    • RobinReenters profile image

      Robin Carretti 6 months ago from Hightstown

      This was a good read its how we perceive things with explanations we need to understand from our side of view

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)