(Poem #1075) Dolor
I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils, Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper-weight, All the misery of manila folders and mucilage, Desolation in immaculate public places, Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard, The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher, Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma, Endless duplication of lives and objects. And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions, Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica, Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium, Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows, Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.
[Commentary] The first time I read this poem  I misinterpreted it as being just another rant (albeit a rather good one) against the increasing mechanization of modern society, and the concomitant death of craftsmanship and individuality. Certainly that is one of Roethke's points, and it's not one I disagree with. But the poet has a subtler message as well: that the insidious spread of uniformity across _things_ has a deleterious effect on _people_. It's easier to put a human being in a box when there are other boxes all around; easier to contain thought when the world seems merely a container for other objects. All neatly labeled and categorized and indexed, in inexorable, desolate order.  Ermm, let's be honest. It was all of five minutes ago :) [Construction] Notice how Roethke, like Whitman in "When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer" (Minstrels Poem #54), uses long and decidedly unpoetic words in clunky, choppy phrases to convey the stultifying effect of mechanical repetition and duplication. Unlike the Whitman poem, however, there is no final easing up, and so "Dolor" feels somewhat heavy-handed... On the other hand, "long afternoons of tedium" could very well have been the inspiration for a phrase we all know and love, so who am I to complain? :) thomas. [Minstrels Links] Poet #Roethke Poet #Whitman [Afterthought] While I agree with the overall thrust of Roethke's poem, on further reflection I must take exception to the first couple of lines: I happen to _like_ the easy weight of sharp new pencils, the smell and texture of fresh sheets of paper. They always make me feel creative :)