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The End of the World -- Archibald MacLeish

Guest poem submitted by Carolyn and Frank:
(Poem #457) The End of the World
Quite unexpectedly, as Vasserot
The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe,
And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting
The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough
In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:

And there, there overhead, there, there hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark, the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,
There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing -- nothing at all.
-- Archibald MacLeish
It is much easier to recognize a great poem (you just wait for the hair
on the back of your neck to rise) than it is to explain why  you think
it is a great poem, but here goes.

To begin with, MacLeish pulls you in with the first two words -- "Quite
unexpectedly" -- and you rush ahead to the details of a circus
performance. Vivid details pointing up a series of events as they are
about to happen. You can visualize it all. Then those two words again,
followed by  "the top blew off"

The next line is amazing.  With repetition and pauses he builds suspense
until you feel that you are one of those "white faces" with "dazed eyes"
looking up. Again a series of marvelous images but in direct contrast to
the specific ones in the first eight lines. Phrases such as starless
dark, sudden blackness and vast wings across the cancelled skies
prepare you for that completely satisfying last line.

I have always thought that MacLeish was one of our great 20th century
poets. This poem I like almost as much as my all-time favorite, 'You',
by Andrew Marvell..  He gives to the reader comforting little lines you
can repeat to yourself when you need assurance of the beautiful in life.
And he is never trite or sentimental - what more could you ask for?

Carolyn Bunch.


Carolyn (in comments added to poem 188) just happened to be looking for
the poem that I'd like to submit for the Minstrels collection. It's more
about the end of the world as experienced at a circus than a poem about
circus performers and their audience. I never really analyzed this poem
beyond recognizing the extreme contrast between the light-heartedness of
a circus performance and the seriousness of the world's end. A juxtapose
of comedy and tragedy -- Enjoy!


19 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Ian Baillieu said...

Was it Oscar Wilde who said that a poet can survive anything
but a misprint? If your website technology permits, please
correct 'to' to 'the' in the 8th line! Your guest has it
right in her comments.

This poem has such original and startling and satisfying
language and imagery, that once read it cannot be
forgotten - one test of a fine poem. MacLeish also blows
the top off any notion that the sonnet is a staid and old
fashioned form.

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aziza lafraoui said...

I hate all kind of apocalyptic stuff
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