On the Contrary, My Dear Watson

I decided to take a look at the poem “Heroic Couplet” on page 57. It goes a little something like this:

This is an

astral projection

left angular gyrus

When I came home last night I had my keys
but rang the bell so as to be received

by you

perceived location
actual location

With this poem, Schiff is structuring the poem in order to give the reader a feel of normalcy. The lines are single, couplet, repeat. I also noticed that the first two couplets have 5 syllables and then 10 per line, and then the last couplet has 5 syllables per line (depending on how you say actual). This gives the reader a subconscious pattern that they can hold onto while they read a poem they may not necessarily understand.

“Heroic Couplet” could mean several things, but the one that I used to analyze the poem was ” pair having characteristics of heroes”. Using this, we can attempt to pull something from the poem.

Heroes tend to do things without regard for themselves in the name of a greater good, and according to the Greeks, stars were equivalent to the gods– a greater good. Also, they believed that the soul was far more important than the body, which is where (I feel) the disembodiment comes from.

The next couplet is about the speaker having keys but ringing the doorbell anyways to be received. Heroes were welcomed everywhere back in Greece, even today. If someone does something Heroic (like a general or soldiers) we would have big parades and welcome them home (not so much today, but definitely during WWI and WWII. I guess today’s equivalent would be clapping in the airport for the soldiers that come home.).

The last stanza means “where you want to be. where you really are.” which is an arrangement I love. What if the two correspond? I’d imagine that while heroes are out and about fighting terrible monsters that they’d want to be somewhere else- even today’s soldiers. And I think that sense of longing is a terrible feeling, but a proper way to end this poem. Even though heroes are out saving the masses, they are still only human and probably longing to be somewhere else, with someone else.

Given the amount of explanation I just gave, you can assume what I am going to say next… Schiff  likes to give us as little as possible, but she does give a reader “enough” to pull something meaningful away from the poetry. This is something that I’ve aspired to do (and tried to do) but I don’t think I can write this “bare-minimum” because there is an instinct as a poet to worry about the reader. I have a little voice saying “What if they don’t get it?” and I guess that doesn’t really matter.

***side note: We don’t really know specifics into the relationship between the you and the speaker. We know they are a “couple”, but what kind? Sisters? Lovers? Friends?– Does it really matter???

One Response to “On the Contrary, My Dear Watson”

  1. erinl09 Says:

    There is something very grandiose about this gem; the tone is so genteel (the speaker being well-read and concise). That is how I interpreted the use of “heroic” in the title. However, as I also considered this “couplet” a romantic couple (the voice wants to impress the you, wants to flatter him/her), I think it is also appropriate to interpret the heroism as a sort of selflessness that is required in a loving relationship. There is something rather silly about unnecessarily ringing the doorbell, just so one’s lover can answer your call, and the voice seems dignified and proud to admit her/his smittenness. Although I think it could be also interpreted as a sister-sister or friend-friend relationship, I think we are supposed to assume it is a romantic couple– “couplet” is too close to “couple” not to be a lead.

    I also agree that Schiff does well in giving us as little as possible. In my opinion, the most beautiful love poems are the briefest. After all, isn’t it the idiosyncrasies of love that connect to us? The vulnerability of being in love–admitting the weird bits of a relationship–appeals to our human sensitivity to defenselessness. You can say “love is grand, love is beautiful” and I will yawn. But if you tell me you love your husband even though he loves football and you are ethically opposed to football–I’ll be amused and sympathetic at the same time.

    Another reason I think this is a romantic couple is the emphasis on the meeting; this gives a new meaning to “love at first sight.” The voice is, in effect, trying to achieve a love at first sight–the magic AND the goofiness.

    V. lovely poem.

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