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Summary

Stanzas 18-20 Summary Page 1

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 163-179

while time folds its fan shut
and behind its images there's nothing,
the moment plunges into itself
and floats surrounded by death,
threatened by night's lugubrious yawn,
threatened by death that is masked and alive,
the moment plunges into itself,
into itself like a closing fist,
like a fruit that ripens toward its center
and drinks from itself, spilling over,
the moment, translucent, seals itself off
and ripens inward, sends out roots,
grows within me, taking me over,
its feverish leafing drives me out,
my thoughts are nothing more than its birds,
its mercury runs through my veins, tree
of the mind, fruit that tastes of time,

  • The first image of this stanza is of a fan folding shut, like time collapsing into one moment, as we've seen before. 
  • The moment becomes its own object, and floats in nothingness. Only death is outside of the moment. 
  • There is a simile of the moment closing in on itself like a closed fist, and another of the moment ripening into itself, sealed off, and feeding off of itself. 
  • This moment grows within the speaker and obsesses the speaker. It is like a fruit tree that drives him out (remember anyone else who was driven out because of a fruit—Adam and Eve ring any bells?) and the tree takes over the speaker's mind.

Lines 180-184

oh life to live, life already lived,
time that comes back in a swell of sea,
time that recedes without turning its head,
the past is not past,
it is still passing by,
flowing silently into the next vanishing moment:

  • This stanza speaks to life and time. It starts out with "oh life to live, life already lived" which gives it the feeling of an ode. This is the first time the speaker addresses something that isn't the beloved—here the speaker is speaking to life itself. 
  • And the speaker is obsessed with the way that time is not fixed, and is, somehow, at the same time permanent and temporary. He prefers to think of time metaphorically, as an ocean, ebbing in and out like the tide.

Lines 185-208

in an afternoon of stone and saltpeter,
armed with invisible razors you write
in red illegible script on my skin,
and the wounds dress me like a suit of flames,
I burn without end, I search for water,
in your eyes there's no water, they're made of stone,
and your breasts, your belly, your hips are stone,
your mouth tastes of dust, your mouth tastes
like poisoned time, your body tastes
like a well that's been sealed, passage of mirrors
where anxious eyes repeat, passage
that always leads back to where it began,
you take me, a blind man, led by the hand,
through relentless galleries toward the center
of the circle, and you rise like splendor
hardened into an axe, like light that flays,
engrossing as a gallows is to the doomed,
flexible as whips and thin as a weapon
that's twin to the moon, your sharpened words
dig out my chest, depopulate me
and leave me empty, one by one
you extract my memories, I've forgotten my name,
my friends grunt in a wallow with the pigs
or rot in ravines eaten by the sun,

  • Back in Lines 118-135 we saw things being written in fire on stone, or by the sea or the wind on basalt and sand. Here things get a little bit more real: "armed with invisible razors you write in red illegible script on my skin." In case you thought the red ink wasn't blood, the next line tells us that the speaker is covered in wounds like fire, and that he is constantly burning but there is no water to put him out.
  • In lines 57-64 we saw a woman made of water, touching the speaker. Here the woman is made of stone—eyes, breasts, belly, and hips. This might recall the petrified forest of Lines 15-20, and remind us that, in this poem, stone is usually related to the past and to death, while water is related to the present and life, which you can learn even more about in our "Symbols" section.
  • Here the beloved is long gone—her mouth tastes like dust or like an old well, and she becomes not only dead but an executioner—she is an axe, a gallows, a whip, a weapon. What with his woman being both stone and executioner, this guy seems more than a little preoccupied with death in these lines.
  • Words, too, come back: "your sharpened words / dig out my chest, depopulate me / and leave me empty, one by one / you extract my memories, I've forgotten my name."
  • Oblivion, loss of memory, and death. This is the passage of time, for the speaker.
  • The stanza ends with the horrible image of the speaker's friends grunting among pigs or rotting in the sun. Whatever the speaker wants to remember is, once again, tainted with violence and general awfulness.
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