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Linda Pastan's "A New Poet" and "Leaving the Island"

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.

Linda Pastan

Linda Pastan

Introduction and Text of "A New Poet"

Linda Pastan's poem, "A New Poet," consists of six free verse tercets, many of which connect with one another giving the poem a streaming flow of the enthusiasm that informs the speaker's delivery. Pastan's poetry is always quietly satisfying.

A New Poet

Finding a new poet
is like finding a new wildflower
out in the woods. You don't see

its name in the flower books, and
nobody you tell believes
in its odd color or the way

its leaves grow in splayed rows
down the whole length of the page. In fact
the very page smells of spilled

red wine and the mustiness of the sea
on a foggy day - the odor of truth
and of lying.

And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself, if only

in your dreams there had been a pencil
or a pen or even a paintbrush,
if only there had been a flower.

Reading of "A New Poet"

Commentary on "A New Poet"

This little drama displays the excitement and enthusiasm of discovering the work of a poet, with whom the speaker had formerly remained unacquainted.

First Tercet: The Unadorned Simile

Finding a new poet
is like finding a new wildflower
out in the woods. You don't see

The speaker begins quite simply with an unadorned simile: "Finding a new poet / is like finding a new wildflower / out in the woods."

Most readers can identify with the situation of walking in the woods, enjoying the clean green foliage, the fresh air, and no doubt the bird songs, and then suddenly there it is, a lovely colorful little flower that heretofore had remained out of one's experience.

The speaker likens finding a new poet to that surprising and pleasant incident. After remaining unaware and unacquainted with the new poet, the excitement captures the imagination and interest of the reader with the same joy that arises from catching a glimpse that new flower for the first time.

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Second Tercet: Unknown Joy

its name in the flower books, and
nobody you tell believes
in its odd color or the way

The speaker then declares that she cannot find the name of the flower in the usual botanical books, which signals that the "new poet" is not well known and therefore his/her work has not appeared in many journals.

The new poet is not only new to the speaker, but he or she is also new to publishing. Since the new poet is, indeed, so new, that the speaker's friends are not so taken with the new poet's works.

Those friends or acquaintances do not "believe[ ] / in its odd color." They do not yet see why the speaker feels so enthusiastic about her new discovery.

Third Tercet: Experience Returned

its leaves grow in splayed rows
down the whole length of the page. In fact
the very page smells of spilled

Those skeptical friends do not become enthused about this new poet, whose poems "grow in splayed rows / down the whole length of the page." The new poet's work looks unusual to the others, but to the speaker they bring forth much interest.

The new poet's work brings back to the speaker her own experiences: "the very page smells of spilled / / red wine."

Fourth Tercet: Bringing Back Memories

red wine and the mustiness of the sea
on a foggy day - the odor of truth
and of lying.

The speaker enjoys the memories the new poet's work causes to arise, those memories of not only "red wine" but also "the mustiness of the sea / on a foggy day - the odor of truth / and of lying." The speaker has delved into the new poet's work enough to realize the valuable experiences that new work is capable of retrieving for her.

Fifth Tercet: Fresh Way of Feeling

And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself, if only

In the fifth tercet, the speaker has almost left behind the flower as she claims that the "words are so familiar, / so strangely new." The new poem strikes a chord with speaker as they recall her experiences in an odd fresh way.

The words make the speaker's memories flood her mind and mood in such exciting novel ways that the familiar and unfamiliar seem to blend into one rush of joy. They are so familiar that it seems the speaker herself could have written them.

Sixth Tercet: Popping Out of the Ground of Dreaming

in your dreams there had been a pencil
or a pen or even a paintbrush,
if only there had been a flower.

The speaker surmises that if she had had a pencil or pen in her dreams she might have written that poem herself. Or if she had had a paintbrush, she might have painted the flower, if it had popped out of the ground of her dreaming sleep.

Linda Pastan

Linda Pastan

Linda Pastan's "Leaving the Island"

Linda Pastan's speaker in this well-crafted, traditional villanelle, "Leaving the Island," reveals the melancholy that accompanies the end of summer.

Introduction and Text of "Leaving the Island"

At the end of a lovely summer vacation, the speaker in Linda Pastan's "Leaving the Island" dramatizes the sadness that the vacationers experience as they prepare for the end of their vacation, packing up to head back home and leaving their summer paradise.

Leaving the Island

We roll up the rugs and strip the beds by rote,
Summer expires as it has done before.
The ferry is no simple pleasure boat

Nor are we simply cargo, though we’ll float
Alongside heavy trucks — their stink and roar.
We roll up rugs and strip the beds by rote.

This bit of land whose lines the glaciers wrote
Becomes the muse of memory once more;
The ferry is no simple pleasure boat.

I’ll trade my swimsuit for a woolen coat;
The torch of autumn has but small allure.
We roll up rugs and strip the beds by rote.

The absences these empty shells denote
Suggest the losses winter has in store.
The ferry is no simple pleasure boat.

The songs of summer dwindle to one note;
The fog horn’s blast (which drowns this closing door.)
We rolled up rugs and stripped the beds by rote.
The ferry is no simple pleasure boat.

Note: Reading of Linda Pastan's "Leaving the Island" by Charlotte Maier

Commentary on "Leaving the Island"

Linda Pastan's speaker in this well-crafted, traditional villanelle, "Leaving the Island," reveals the melancholy that accompanies the end of summer.

First Tercet: Summer Vacation

We roll up the rugs and strip the beds by rote,
Summer expires as it has done before.
The ferry is no simple pleasure boat

The vacationers, likely a family, have come to this island many times, and it has, thus, become a routine that at the end of each summer retreat, they roll up the rugs and strip the beds; these two activities represent the entire routine involved in preparing to leave their summer vacation behind.

The speaker then reports that summer is ending as it always does.

The family has to board a ferry to travel back to the mainland, but the ride at the end of summer is no simple pleasure boat. The ferry itself becomes part of the working world; it is utilitarian rather than purposed for simple fun and leisure, as it, no doubt, would have seemed at the beginning of this holiday.

Second Tercet: Family Cargo

Nor are we simply cargo, though we’ll float
Alongside heavy trucks — their stink and roar.
We roll up rugs and strip the beds by rote.

The family is not simply cargo, even though they will float back to the mainland, "Alongside heavy trucks their stink and roar." The vacationers are precious cargo because they are thinking, feeling human beings.

After mentioning the stink and roar of actual cargo, the speaker's melancholy returns, and she repeats the line that contains the prompt for her melancholy: "We roll up rugs and strip the beds by rote."

Third Tercet: On the Island

This bit of land whose lines the glaciers wrote
Becomes the muse of memory once more;
The ferry is no simple pleasure boat.

The island on which the vacationers have been enjoying their leisure is but a bit of land which was formed by glaciers. The speaker picturesquely describes that glacial formation as lines the glaciers wrote.

Henceforth the speaker will have to be satisfied enjoying the memories of the time on the island and the pleasures gained from the summer days she has spent there. Then again, as all speakers in all well-crafted, traditional villanelles do, this speaker's attention again turns to the prompt of melancholy.

This time she repeats, "The ferry is no simple pleasure boat."

Fourth Tercet: Looking Ahead

I’ll trade my swimsuit for a woolen coat;
The torch of autumn has but small allure.
We roll up rugs and strip the beds by rote.

Projecting ahead to winter, the speaker reports that instead of the swimsuit which she has lived in during the summer, she will be confined to a woolen coat. Making it obvious that she is a summer person, she admits that autumn has but small allure.

Then the melancholic refrain again intrudes, "We roll up rugs and strip the beds by rote."

Fifth Tercet: Melancholy of Winter

The absences these empty shells denote
Suggest the losses winter has in store.
The ferry is no simple pleasure boat.

The melancholy grows with each new stanza and so by the fifth tercet, the speaker is bemoaning the emptiness that winter has in store. She sees absences in these empty shells. She then harkens back to the refrain of the ferry: "The ferry is no simple pleasure boat."

Final Quatrain: The Music of Summer Leisure

The songs of summer dwindle to one note;
The fog horn’s blast (which drowns this closing door.)
We rolled up rugs and stripped the beds by rote.
The ferry is no simple pleasure boat.

Summer has been filled with the beautiful music of leisurely, sun-filled, carefree days, but now those songs of summer dwindle to one note. And that note is the fog horn's blast, which seems to sound as they shut the door both literally and figuratively on their beautiful summer vacation.

The villanelle concludes with those two haunting lines of refrain: "We rolled up rugs and stripped the beds by rote. / The ferry is no simple pleasure boat."

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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