Keeping Things Whole
by Mark Strand
Keeping Things Whole Identity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Line)
I am the absence (2)
Can we get any more clear and vague at the same time? The speaker in this poem is a master of understatement that reverberates with a meditative insight on the complexity of identity. He just comes out and says it. "I am the absence." But what seems straightforward is actually a complex statement about identity. How can you say you're not there while actually being there to say it? The speaker of this poem defines his presence in the world by saying that he's not a presence and this contradiction is what propels the poem forward like a spinning wheel of reflection that never slows down enough for us to get a handle on it, and that's exactly how our speaker likes it.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing. (6-7)
All right, he could be feeling a little sorry for himself, like the sad Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh of the poetry world, but he could also be trying to define a difficult sense of identity. Sure, we don't know what he looks like, and we don't know how old he is, or what type of clothes he wears or any of that good stuff. But the speaker's choice of vague words somehow captures a clear picture of the speaker's identity. He's always what is missing. If our speaker had a Facebook page, his picture would be a blank screen. Nada. Zilch. Zero. And yet, it's almost as if he's pleading, "I am / I am" to reinforce that he exists. What's cool is he manages to create this sense of identity with such few words. The irony is that he repeats, "I am / I am" yet what he means is "I am not." In other words, his identity is defined by being the empty space in the world.
We all have reasons
For moving. (14-15)
Nothing major here, but for the first time the speaker uses a plural pronoun. Why is that significant? All along the speaker talks about how empty and isolated he is from the world, yet here he refers to "all." In other words, his identity seems to be shaped by how apart he feels from the world, and yet these lines suggest the he still feels connected to the human race at large because they're something like him. So perhaps the picture he's painting of himself could extend beyond himself to the reader, or perhaps this is just another contradiction of our speaker being both "apart from" and "a part of" existence. Ponder away, dear Shmoopers.