Study Guide

Central Heating Analysis

  • Sound Check

    We're going to have to trust our translator a little bit on this one, because the poem as it is in English surely sounds different than it did in French. For example, the title of the poem in French—"Chauffage Central"—really rolls off the tongue in a way that "Central Heating" just… doesn't.

    Yet there's still plenty of sound to savor when you read this poem aloud. How about some assonance for starters? There are so many long I sounds here in the words "light," and "strike," and "wide" and "I." This uplifting, long I carries us through the word "light," which is a hopeful, central metaphor in a poem that's often quite sorrowful.

    We've also got lots of examples of alliteration in the poem. Check out lines 23-25, where the P sound is repeated in "perfect purity," the C sound repeated in "copper" and "conducts," and the S sound repeated in "sun" and "same substance." These words, paired by their beginning sounds, seem to reflect the pairing of the speaker and his beloved in the poem. Perhaps, as these sounds subtly suggest, there's hope after all.

    Another interesting aspect of the sound of this poem is how the line length shakes things up. Try reading the short lines aloud. They should come out slowly, almost choppily, which makes sense since they all stand out as part of the speaker's break with reality. It's the longer lines, like the second line and the last line, that draw us in to the speaker, providing us with details. But we don't get bogged down by these lines. Their length seems to draw us on and give us a rhythmic, sonic momentum as we get excited to read to the end of them.

    All in all, though the speaker's views of the world and his romantic life seem to be shaken, the poem's sounds seem relatively harmonious. In this subtle way, Reverdy seems to suggest that there's still hope in the face of the bleak view that the speaker seems to have adopted.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    This poem's title ties the whole poem together with a metaphor. The poem explores different ways to view the heart and body as powered by a metaphorical central heating system. The system is kicking into gear as we start with a light, and a woman stretching out like a flare. Then we move to find out that central heating in our speaker's body is not working as it should—he feels as if there has been a breakdown.

    This breakdown causes him to doubt the reality of the world, but he comes back to the title idea when he talks about the force that provides central heating for the universe—the sun. He accesses the sun by thinking about his lover's heart, showing that possibly our speaker's love for this woman is his central heating, the force that's keeping him running, despite all of his doubts.

    We don't have a simple extended metaphor in this poem. It's not as if each separate part of the heating system is analogized to a different aspect of the love affair. It's more interesting than that. There are gaps, questions, things that don't quite fit into the metaphor. But that's the surrealist side of our speaker, forcing our minds to leap across gaps in logic, even though we're not quite sure we can. Then, after we've succeeded in landing safely, we're forever changed on the other side of the crevice.

    And if you wanted to take this title to Big Picture-ville, you could ask, in reading this poem, what kind of central heating do we have as humans? What is the power that keeps our hearts pumping blood, our stomachs digesting, our temperatures at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit? Science, theology, and philosophy present many ways to answer this question, a question that is not answered definitively in this poem, but at which our speaker takes a good stab.

  • Setting

    While we know that Reverdy was in Paris when he wrote this poem, it seems that the setting of this poem, for the most part, is inside the mind of our speaker. We jump around, following his eyes and his mind from image to image, even if those eyes are going down the wrong road. (Eyeballs behind the wheel of a car –now there's an image for you.)

    Essentially, the speaker is trying to construct a setting at the same time that we are. Just what is real? What is artificial? What is memory and what is happening now? We never get the scoop. Instead, we get the speaker going back and forth between image, metaphor, and (seemingly) tangible detail. Frustratingly, he never seems to come to any conclusion.

    So what can we say for certain? If we had to give Regis our final answer, it would be that this setting can best be described as… love. The connection between two people—the speaker and the beloved here—is what sets off all these questions pinging around his head and throughout the poem. Love both occasions the questions and suggests varying answers. Have you ever felt that disorienting influence of love before? If not, you will one day, and then you'll be sharing the same setting as this poem's.

  • Speaker

    We don't hear too much about the speaker in this poem, so it's up to us to leap from what we read in the poem to a picture of who we think is talking to us. Ready to jump?

    First up, an assumption: we assume that our speaker is a fella. That's only because Reverdy in real life was a fella, and this speaker seems to be hung up on a loved one, who we're also assuming is a woman. Now, we know what assuming can do to the best of us, but really nailing down the whys and wherefores of this hot (or occasionally warm) affair is a bit beside the point. What is important about our speaker is the way his thought process operates in the poem. Specifically, we see a person in love trying to come to grips with the reality of his emotions.

    Now, that might sound weird. Shouldn't you be happy if you're in love? Well, that really depends on the situation. Sure, it's all high-fives and lollipops for some, but for others being in love represents a real vulnerability. Think about it: when you are totally in love, you're basically putting your happiness in the hands of someone else. It's as if you've become totally dependent on them for everything: happiness, meaning, warmth. And is that a good thing?

    Again, there are no easy answers here. It's important to realize that our speaker never comes to any hard and fast conclusions. Instead, we get the inner workings of mind that is questioning. Is this love that the speaker is feeling even real? Could it just be an impulse? What might "real love" even be, after all? Is there artificial love? Our speaker is pushing these questions to their very extreme: What is love? What is warmth? What is reality? What in the Sam Hill is life, for cryin' out loud? Those are a few of the big, BIG questions that plague our speaker, so forgive him if he's a bit out of sorts for these few lines, would you?

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (6) Tree Line

    This is not a simple poem. You'll need some serious concentration when you read it, and it's probably not going to come through clearly in just one read. It jumps from image to image, and has a lot of metaphors coming into play. They do come together in a coherent whole by the end of the poem, though. The view is worth the effort. So, lace up your good boots and get ready for a difficult, but exhilarating, hike.

  • Calling Card

    Breathless Surrealism

    Reverdy was one of the major players in the rise of Surrealism, a literary and artistic movement that stressed the importance of dreamlike, surprising imagery. Surrealism attempted to connect the subconscious and conscious worlds, breaking down traditional logic in an attempt to establish a new, more breathtaking logic—the logic of dreams and images and wonders. An effect of the surrealist aspects of Reverdy's poems is to, well, leave his readers a little breathless after they've run along behind Reverdy's wandering mind, leaping from image to image.

    In "Central Heating," we see Surrealism when we imagine the heart as part of a Central Heating system, when we're left guessing where exactly the poem is taking place and who exactly it's talking about, and when we think about someone's heart being made out of the same stuff as the sun. If you think about this poem like a mathematician or a lawyer, it's not going to make very much sense. It's illogical, and the pieces don't always fit together. But let your mind be free and open to marvels and magic, and the poem will have an effect that is beyond logical analysis.

  • Form and Meter

    Free Verse

    The poem has no set rhyme or rhythm scheme. That means that Reverdy was free to do what he liked with the form of the poem.

    That doesn't mean, however, that it's arranged helter-skelter on the page. If you look (or read aloud) carefully, you'll find that the varying line lengths have quite an effect. Just take a look at, for example, the first two lines of the first and third stanzas. The pattern here is that one small line, for example "A tiny light," is followed by one much longer line, such as "You see a tiny light coming down landing on your stomach and lighting you up." This has the effect of building the tension and rhythm of the poem—if we were reading this poem aloud, we'd read the short line very slowly, and then speed up to roll with the momentum of the second line.

    This short-to-long form is somewhat repeated in the three stanzas. We get two short stanzas, followed by a longer stanza 3. The first two stanzas set us up for the flowing explosion of the third.

    It's almost as if we're dealing with a heating system at the beginning of winter. It sputters into life, falters, sputters into life again, and then turns on full blast when we hit the third and last stanza.

  • Central Heating

    There is an extended metaphor running through this poem, linking a central heating system to the human body and heart. As we read, we explore the different things that may give us humans the energy to keep our bodies and minds warm and healthy: a woman's touch, a memory, love, the sun. Yet, in the face of this metaphor, the speaker doubts the reality of the very world he explores. The force behind his heating mystifies him as he ventures to find out what it is. (And do you think he's getting warmer? Sorry, we couldn't help ourselves there.)

    • Line 6: This line is part of the extended metaphor for central heating. The wordplay in "heart-system" shows that the heating system here is not the kind that heats up a building, but the kind that heats up a human being and all of his or her emotions. 
    • Line 7: This line is another part of the metaphor for human emotions. We know that something like a heating system is being talked about here because we're dealing with an engine that's breaking down, but since we already know that there are problems in the heart system, we can guess that this "engine" is really standing in for something else, like the speaker's ability to love, perhaps. 
    • Line 8: This line continues the metaphor and the wordplay. An electromagnet is a magnet whose field is activated by electricity, so we can think of the speaker as run by a magnet. If he is activated, he'll have a magnetic force, which can metaphorically repel and attract other people, objects, moods. But the metaphor leaves us guessing, asking the same question as the speaker. This is another literary device, called a rhetorical question, or, a question that isn't really meant to be answered.
    • Line 11: The spark mentioned here could also be part of the heating metaphor. We think of a fire in a hearth, keeping the whole room and all of the people in it cozy and warm. Yet this spark, this sustaining force, is allowed to die. The heat fizzles out, leaving the humans cold. Perhaps this line is a metaphor for life in general, comparing life to a spark that is born only to die. Cheery thought, eh? 
    • Line 16: Here, we explore another form of heating—touch. This touch seems to be one of the most reality affirming things in the speaker's life, heating him up when his world seems cold and distant. 
    • Line 24: This copper wire is probably conducting electricity to a light bulb, thus causing light and, it's a safe bet, heat. As light illuminates, it heats, perhaps adding another metaphorical layer to this poem—that learning, becoming more knowledgeable and seeing life more clearly, is one of the things that keeps us alive and real. 
    • Line 25: This line connects us to the central heating system of our whole solar system: the sun. The comparison of the heating system to the sun means that, perhaps, as the sun gives heat and light to the earth as a whole, the woman in the poem gives heat and light to our speaker, thus completing the metaphor on more than one level. We've got simple central heating as it would be in a building, central heating as it applies to one human life, and central heating as it applies to the whole solar system. That's a triple-stacked metaphor, folks, and a lot of heat to boot.
  • Light

    Along with the idea of heat, we get light in this poem. Like Starsky and Hutch, heat and light are two things that just go together. Think of fire, for example. While a central heating system doesn't necessarily go along with light, there's a lot of imagery and symbolism dealing with light in the poem. The typical metaphor meaning of "light" in a phrase like "I see the light!" paints light as a symbol for knowledge and revelation. Think, as you read the poem, what these revelations and knowledge might be.

    • Lines 1-2: These first two lines start us off with the idea of light—a tiny little light. At this point, for all we know, this light is just literally a light, perhaps a shaft of sunlight coming through the crack in a blind. Yet we've also got the idea of central heating, and are reminded, with these lines, of how it would feel to have this light opening up on our stomach, warming us up. 
    • Line 3: Here, we get the idea of a flare. We go from the soft light landing on our stomach to, well, a kind of small rocket. We can think of the beauty of this woman's body, giving light to the night sky, and perhaps, our speaker's heart and mind. This is an example of a simile, which is a comparison of two things using the words "like" or "as." 
    • Line 4: Now we've got a contrast to the woman stretching like a flare: a woman who is like a shadow. We've got a metaphor, which is a comparison that doesn't use the words like or as, but is a little more subtle and direct. This woman is "a shadow," with no like or as to set us up. We only know that she's a woman, and not a shadow, because she's reading—something humans, not shadows, tend to do. We find out her gender in the next line. 
    • Line 11: When we hear spark, we think Nicholas Spark's The Notebook. J/K, gang. We think fire. And when we think fire, we think light. This spark is lit, but debatably just to fade out and die. This could be a metaphor for life—that our life is just a spark, blipped on and then… blipped off. Yet, though this may seem like a negative idea, a spark is a spark. And if life is just a tiny light, it's better to be a light than a darkness. Right? 
    • Line 24: Here we get to talking about the electronic element of light—it has to be powered by something to light up, and that something could very well be such a copper wire as is mentioned in the poem. In the literal moment of the poem, the copper wire could be lighting up an actual light bulb, but we can also think about the figurative level. What kind of wires could connect to the light coursing through our bodies, lighting up our eyes, hearts, and minds? There's certainly a light flickering in the mind of our speaker as he explores his thoughts and emotions in this poem. 
    • Line 25: This line wraps up the entire course of light throughout the poem by connecting the speaker's lover's heart and the sun. This is kind of a complicated metaphor. There's no direct comparison, but by saying that the heart and the sun are made of the same material, the speaker is indirectly saying that his lover's heart is like the sun.
  • The Body

    Throughout the poem, we hear about various parts of the human body. From the heart to the eyes to the feet, there are several body parts involved here. Don't worry, though, these aren't gross, or mushy at all—instead, they're connected to the themes of the poem and… well, flesh them out (sorry). Through the different parts of the human body, we are connected with the ideas about love and existence that show up throughout the poem.

    • Line 2: Our first body part in this poem is the stomach, appropriately, as the poem is titled "Central Heating" and the stomach is a very central and warm part of the body. In this poem, we start with warmth, the warmth at the middle of the body.
    • Line 5: Here, we hear about feet. These are very interesting feet, to take up a whole line in the poem. They are "unencumbered" by shoes, bare, and, as our speaker thinks, quite pretty. This line starts to show us the speaker's enchantment with the body—the stomach, the eyes, the heart, and, yes, even the feet. 
    • Line 6: Ah, the heart. It is perhaps one of the most tormented, famed, and symbolic body parts. A stopped heart can kill us physically, a broken heart kills us emotionally. In this poem, the heart is part of the extended metaphor, the comparison running throughout the poem which connects the human body with central heating. The heart is a system, part of a larger whole, but it has short circuited. Trouble. We imagine a spark, some smoke, and then the total collapse of the body and its emotions—kind of like when we had to drive our old Hyundai on the highway. 
    • Line 9: Here, we move to another body part: the eyes. The eyes, like the heart, have a lot of symbolic baggage. They are, stereotypically, the windows to souls, objects that show our emotions without saying a word. Here, they are linked up with the speaker's love, but headed in the wrong direction. This is personification—eyes and love can't take a road trip together a la Thelma and Louise. We think of this as meaning the speaker's fallen in love with a woman, possibly because of her beauty, and that he has a bad feeling about where this love is going to take him in his life. 
    • Line 15: Here, we switch to the mouth. Already, we've got some of the most sensual body parts—the eyes, the heart, the stomach (well, more sensual than the feet anyway), the mouth. The mouth is coming after an exclamation of doubt in the reality of the world. Thus, this woman's mouth is the most real part of the world for our speaker. 
    • Line 16: We get another example of a body part being truly real, and also connecting back to the central metaphor of the poem. This time, it's a hand that's touching another body, warming it up wherever it touches. Body heat, then, is one of the sources of heating discussed in the poem. 
    • Line 18: Now, we move to the face as a whole. At this point of the poem, the reality of the world is in question, even the face right in front of our speaker. Though he could reach out and touch this human face, which we can assume he loves, his doubts about the world overrule his love and desire, and he can't quite believe the face he's seeing is real. Poor guy. 
    • Line 25: We return to the heart here as the poem's central metaphor is tied together. The sun, the source of central heating for the solar system, is linked with the heart, the symbol of emotion, the organ pumping blood to our entire body.
    • Steaminess Rating

      PG

      There's nothing explicit in this poem, but there's definitely a love affair happening. Sure, it may not be red hot, but there's definitely warmth here, and the suggestion of lust.