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Analysis

Pastoral, Free Verse

A poem is considered when it celebrates natural beauty. It can take almost any form, and this one is in free verse, which means that it has no regular rhyme or meter. There are just 31 lines of poetry. The poem is a bit unusual for a pastoral, because it begins by talking about serious philosophical ideas. A lot of older pastorals are filled with flowery language about shepherds, country maidens, and babbling brooks. But, this one feels sleek and modern, with only a few touches of nature imagery scattered throughout. For example, once the poet starts sneaking in references to "clown-faced" woodpeckers and black birches, we get clued in to the fact that the poem is more about the mysterious beauty of the landscape at Lagunitas than it is about the Platonic world of Ideas.

Although it has no regular form, a couple of things jump out in this poem. First, a lot of its sentences end in the middle of a line, rather than at the end. This means there is a lot of enjambment – which is when a sentence or phrase carries over a line break. Hass sometimes uses these enjambed line breaks to make little jokes, like this one: "some tragic falling off from a first world / of undivided light." The sentence carries on until – oops! – it "falls off" the line. How tragic.

Second, the poem looks different than it sounds. What does that mean? Well, the lines all have roughly the same length on the page, so we might expect the poem to sound very neat and even – like one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, perhaps. But, instead, it just sounds like a normal person talking. This, again, is because of how the sentences are broken up irregularly through the lines. Hass doesn’t want his poetry to sound like Poetry – he wants it to sound like everyday, rambling English. Try reading the poem aloud, and see if you agree.

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