Elegy for Wife and Son? OR NOT

D.A. Powell begins his essay with some fairly vague qualifications for elegy: a loss poem that emits great love/respect, that attempts to triumph over death, and hopes to rescue the lost one.  Since they are quite general, it is not difficult for Brian Henry to adhere without completely conforming.

Quarantine certainly is preoccupied with death, but I wonder if it is some else’s death that the voice is lamenting, or if it is his own. When speaking of his family, he sounds detached, perhaps almost bored:

I remember my son died first
my wife three days after
I was relieved to hear him stop
screaming whenever he screamed
I felt like screaming at my wife
only cried she blamed me for
she blamed me for everything (Quarantine 4)

His indignation is that she blames him for their deaths, although “[he] was as close to death as she” (16)? Perhaps it is unfair to say he does not care about their deaths; the dullness likely comes out of them, which we sense in the Quarantine 6 poem.  It is with regret that he states his wife’s “eyes were not on [him],” although “[he] was not there / when she died” (1-4).  But maybe it is guilt-regret, after all, in the following poem he tells his wife he wishes for her to die, and is then happy that she knows, glad that “she died in pain” (10).  The only reason he does tell her this truth is that he knows he, too, is dying, and thus the admission is validation for him.  There is so little compassion in his accounts of her death!  Even his son’s death is only semi-saddening.  He does scream scream for his son (Quarantine 5, line 12), but later he says “I wish I had never had a son” (Quarantine 10, line 5).  Does he mean this?

This confusion stops me from knowing how closely Henry is coming to elegy.  Maybe it would be truer to say these poems are not elegies per say, but elegaic?  They are loss poems, and seem to try to triumph over death, but I am uncertain whether they are borne of great love/respect, and whether the voice wants to rescue his lost ones.  It may be easier for him to detach so as not to be crazy with pain. I think he’s worth the benefit of the doubt.

And where do the dog and young man fit in? Those italicized poems worked as outside perspective poems, satellite poems that were not speaking directly to the main narrative, but more intensifying the memorial effect.  I wondered if the young man was the voice, though younger, because he is identified in relation to the voice: a man who is younger than the voice.  The looking back seems to be done also in regret…

I have a feeling that Henry is going to lead me somewhere I was not expecting.  This analysis might be nullified by coming attractions.

One Response to “Elegy for Wife and Son? OR NOT”

  1. karlakelsey Says:

    I am interested in the idea that speaking from beyond death might be a triumph over death…it seems like it MUST be a triumph, but the tone here is never triumphal. In what way does Henry succeed at the impossible task of writing from the pov of someone who is dead? In what way is this impossible to succeed in?

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