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Dana Gioia's "Thanks For Remembering Us," "The Sunday News," and "Words"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Introduction and Text of "Thanks For Remembering Us"

Dana Gioia’s poem, “Thanks for Remembering Us,” consists of two rimed stanzas. The first stanza offers eight lines with the rime scheme, ABBCCDCD. The second stanza has ten lines but fewer rimes, ABCDAFGDHI.

The poem focuses on the mystery of a couple’s receiving a mistaken delivery of flowers.

(Please note: Dr. Samuel Johnson introduced the form "rhyme" into English in the 18th century, mistakenly thinking that the term was a Greek derivative of "rhythmos." Thus, "rhyme" is an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form "rime," please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Thanks for Remembering Us

The flowers sent here by mistake,
signed with a name that no one knew,
are turning bad. What shall we do?
Our neighbor says they're not for her,
and no one has a birthday near.
We should thank someone for the blunder.
Is one of us having an affair?
At first we laugh, and then we wonder.

The iris was the first to die,
enshrouded in its sickly-sweet
and lingering perfume. The roses
fell one petal at a time,
and now the ferns are turning dry.
The room smells like a funeral,
but there they sit, too much at home,
accusing us of some small crime,
like love forgotten, and we can't
throw out a gift we've never owned.

Reading of "Thanks for Remembering Us"

Commentary on "Thanks for Remembering Us"

California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia's speaker creates a little drama prompted by a mysterious bouquet of flowers being mistakenly delivered to his address.

First Stanza: A Target Missed

The flowers sent here by mistake,
signed with a name that no one knew,
are turning bad. What shall we do?
Our neighbor says they're not for her,
and no one has a birthday near.
We should thank someone for the blunder.
Is one of us having an affair?
At first we laugh, and then we wonder.

The speaker begins by revealing that the flowers arrived with “a name that no one knew.” The flowers have been adorning their house for several weeks because they are now “turning bad.”

After the flowers first arrived, they made some effort to locate the real target of that delivery, but they found out that their neighbors did not recognize the name of the woman who sent them.

There is no one in the household who has a birthday. The speaker asks, “What shall he do?” And they did all that could, it seems. But the speaker has a nagging feeling that someone ought to be thanked “for the blunder,” thus accounting for the poem’s title.

The speaker then adds to the mystery by offering the possibility that one of them is “having an affair.” He says that after that suggestion, they first laugh, but then feel that they are not so sure.

Second Stanza: A Drama of Demise

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The iris was the first to die,
enshrouded in its sickly-sweet
and lingering perfume. The roses
fell one petal at a time,
and now the ferns are turning dry.
The room smells like a funeral,
but there they sit, too much at home,
accusing us of some small crime,
like love forgotten, and we can't
throw out a gift we've never owned.

The speaker then dramatizes the demise of the once lovely bouquet that arrived unbidden. The reader learns that the bouquet was made up of irises, roses, and ferns. Now the iris has died first.

The speaker offers a dramatic description of the dead iris: “[t]he iris was the first to die, / enshrouded in its sickly-sweet / and lingering perfume.” Next, the roses die, each petal falls one at a time.

Perhaps the roses were also “enshrouded” in their “perfume.” The speaker appropriately leaves that olfactory image to the reader’s imagination, after having suggested it with the smell of the iris.

The speaker then claims that the “room smells like a funeral.” The funeral home where the deceased awaits the funeral service is usually adorned with many flowers that are pleasing to the eye as well as the nose.

But the juxtaposition of the funeral home and this couple’s residential home is rather jarring, adding to the mystery and the jolt that this mistaken delivery has imposed on the household. The speaker reports that the flowers continue to sit on their table looking, “too much at home.”

He discerns that they seem to give off an accusing air of “some small crime.” He knows, however, that neither he nor his wife has committed any crimes. They cannot be held accountable for the blunder that caused the flowers to be mistakenly delivered to their address.

They could have thrown them out as soon as they arrived, or after they could not locate the correct recipient; however, they chose to retain them and allow them add beauty to their home. The final thought that the speaker is left with is, “we can't / throw out a gift we've never owned.”

They have, with reservations, enjoyed the bouquet, even though they have known all along they did not deserve it, because it was intended for someone else, and they will probably never know who that is.

Dana Gioia's "The Sunday News"

The speaker in Dana Gioia's "The Sunday News" gets a blast from the past after sighting a wedding notice in his Sunday newspaper.

Introduction and Text of "The Sunday News"

Dana Gioia's "The Sunday News" consists of five stanzas each with the rime scheme, ABCB. The theme is the reaction to a memory. The poem captures the details of a man browsing the Sunday newspaper and happening upon a face and name from his past.

The Sunday News

Looking for something in the Sunday paper,
I flipped by accident through Local Weddings,
Yet missed the photograph until I saw
your name among the headings.

And there you were, looking almost unchanged,
Your hair still long, though now long out of style,
And you still wore that stiff and serious look
You called a smile.

I felt as though we sat there face to face.
My stomach tightened. I read the item through.
It said too much about both families,
Too little about you.

Finished at last, I threw the paper down,
Stung by jealousy, my mind aflame,
Hating this man, this stranger whom you loved,
This printed name.

And yet I clipped it out to put away
Inside a book like something I might use,
A scrap I knew I wouldn't read again
But couldn't bear to lose.

Dramatic reading of Gioia's "The Sunday News"

Commentary on "The Sunday News"

The speaker in this poem gets a blast from the past after spotting a wedding notice in his Sunday newspaper.

First Stanza: Flipping through the Sunday Newspaper

Looking for something in the Sunday paper,
I flipped by accident through Local Weddings,
Yet missed the photograph until I saw
your name among the headings.

In the first stanza, the reader encounters the speaker "flipp[ing]" through his newspaper on a Sunday morning.

He "by accident" scurries through the weddings section but is stopped as he sees a familiar name. He points out that he "missed the photograph" at first and noted it only after he had caught the "name among the headings."

Second Stanza: Sniping at the Past

And there you were, looking almost unchanged,
Your hair still long, though now long out of style,
And you still wore that stiff and serious look
You called a smile.

The speaker is addressing the woman who has just gotten married. In the second stanza, he tells her that she looks almost the same with the same hairstyle.

The reader then learns that the relationship between the speaker and the woman was not a satisfying one for the speaker, perhaps she had dumped him, or they experienced some sort of unhappy breakup.

The speaker takes the opportunity to snipe at her by saying her long hair was "now long out of style." And he describes her smile in a rather demeaning manner: "you still wore that stiff and serious look / You called a smile."

Third Stanza: A Disturbing Blast from the Past

I felt as though we sat there face to face.
My stomach tightened. I read the item through.
It said too much about both families,
Too little about you.

The speaker finds that remembering the past is now disturbing him after seeing the picture. The former girlfriend's countenance hit him and he feels "as though we were face to face." He experiences a tightening of the stomach. Still he continues to read the article.

But the speaker finds the information lacking; he wanted to find out more details about the woman, not about her family and that of the groom. He feels let down for the lack of detailed news about his former paramour.

Fourth Stanza: Hating on Paper

Finished at last, I threw the paper down,
Stung by jealousy, my mind aflame,
Hating this man, this stranger whom you loved,
This printed name.

The speaker then flings the paper away from him and admits that he was "[s]tung by jealousy." His emotion roars as he finds himself "[h]ating this man, this stranger whom you loved." The speaker freely admits that really what he hated was a piece of newsprint on a page, scraps of ink on paper, "[t]his printed name."

Fifth Stanza: The Grip of Negativity

And yet I clipped it out to put away
Inside a book like something I might use,
A scrap I knew I wouldn't read again
But couldn't bear to lose.

Despite the emotional negativity aroused by the woman's recent marriage, the speaker then does an odd thing: he clips the wedding notice and places it "inside a book." He then acknowledges the irrationality of such an act.

The speaker calls the clipping a "scrap," and furthermore admits that he knew he would never take that clipping out to re-read it. But for some nagging reason that grasps him at the moment, he feels that the memory was one he just "couldn't bear to lose."

Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia's "Words"

Dana Gioia's poem, "Words," dramatizes both the need and lack thereof regarding the poetic tool known as paradox.

Introduction and Text of "Words"

Dana Gioia is a poet one can count on. He always has something to communicate; his poems dramatize and portray and examine.

Unlike many contemporary poets who want to shock, disturb, protest, or simply express an airy nothingness, Gioia's poems demonstrate a poet whose skill and devotion to his craft result in an art that is useful, insightful, entertaining, and educational. Simply put, his poems are real poems.

The poems, "Words," dramatizes both the power and the powerlessness of language. Because human beings create words, they become dependent on them for retaining ideas in the memory. But in contrast, the natural world continues to communicate through its very being.

It is therefore a paradox that the world has no need of words because the human being does have certain needs for words, and those needs have been created through the mental capacity God has given humankind.

Thus words are basically not needed, even some people without hearing must remain silent but still communicate through sign language: can sign language really be considered to form words?

Still, words nevertheless remain very important to humankind despite the nature of the need.

Words

The world does not need words. It articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path
are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.
The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

And one word transforms it into something less or other—
illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert.
Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands
glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow
arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper—
metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa
carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always—
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.

Dana Gioia reads "Words"

Commentary on "Words"

Dana Gioia's poem, "Words," dramatizes both the need and lack thereof regarding the poetic tool known as paradox.

First Stanza: Words vs Wordlessness

The world does not need words. It articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path
are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.
The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

Dana Gioia's poem, "Words," demonstrates the poet's important skill abundantly. The poem consists of four five-line, unrimed stanzas. The first line of the first stanza asserts the claim the world has no need of words, because it communicate perfectly through "sunlight, leaves, and shadows" among other things of nature.

Of course, it is easy enough to understand that leaves are leaves without their saying so with words, but even a human activity such as a kiss is "fully itself though no words were spoken." The kiss then speaks in the same wordless way that the sun speaks or the way stones speak—just naturally with its essence.

Second Stanza: One Word Drama

And one word transforms it into something less or other—
illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert.
Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands
glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow
arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

Still focusing on the kiss, the second stanza dramatizes just how the activity can be changed from its nature by one word.

And just by naming it "kiss," one has limited it; the term erases the other activities that may accompany it: "the fluster of hands / glancing the skin," the "gripping a shoulder," or even "the silent touching of tongues."

Just calling any activity its name limits its nature. The little drama asserted in this stanza makes us start to feel a bit of antipathy towards these things we call words, even though we know that without them we would not have been able to experience the little drama. A paradox is showing itself in the ideas—all expressed with words.

Third Stanza: Faith in Words

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper—
metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa
carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.

But the next drama in the third stanza restores our faith in words: naming things makes them more real to us because, "To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper— / metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa / carved as arrowheads."

And because we can name things, that is, attach words to them, we can store them in our memory. We do not have the same luxury that stones and trees have—the luxury to remain silent without words.

Fourth Stanza: No Need for Praise in Nature

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always—
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.

The fourth stanza again serves as a reminder that our human language cannot add one iota to the natural world. Even though we humans run on praise, the sunlight will go on "piercing the rainclouds, / painting the rocks and leaves with light" without being congratulated.

And though "daylight needs no praise," it is a tribute to the human soul that is capable of praising it. Just as God does not need humankind, but humankind does need God. The soul that is capable of praise is the soul that realizes what is "greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon."

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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