Study Guide

Central Heating Life, Consciousness, and Existence

By Pierre Reverdy

Life, Consciousness, and Existence

What electromagnet is still keeping me running (8)

This line uses the metaphor of central heating to talk about a question that most humans have thought about, at one point or another: "What exactly is making my ticker tick, anyhow?" In the middle of the massive death and tragedy of World War I, the idea of life would, indeed, seem arbitrary. Even though it would be easy to attribute human life to an electromagnet, as if we were some complicated machine, we know—and we know our speaker knows—that it's not that easy. There's some sarcasm in this metaphor so watch out—our speaker may be in love, but he's not all mushy.

A mere nothing (10)

This line gives us a less than optimistic view of love, and, perhaps, life. Life is nothing and love is nothing, which makes it not so big a deal that the speaker's love may be taking him in the wrong direction. Yet, we can't help but think that this leap to thinking the world is nothing is a defense mechanism—a barrier against the depression and distress of this young man, what with his world being barraged by bombs and his heart barraged by uncertainty in love.

A spark they strike only to let it go out again sometime later (11)

Again, we get a less-than-optimistic view of life, consciousness, and existence. Someone is striking up a spark, as if they were trying to start an engine, but they just let that spark die down without a care a little while later. It's as if the speaker thinks lives just flicker on and off as determined by some arbitrary "they." As despairing as this viewpoint is, this metaphor does have a positive view—at least we are the spark, and not the darkness. Yay?

Essentially everything visible is artificial (14)

We can't seem to shake this dogged, despairing view. It's not fun to think of everything visible—a big part of our life, consciousness and existence—as artificial. But then again, our speaker isn't trying to write a fun poem. He's writing a poem that makes his readers question the nature of existence, just as he is. Is the world real, or is it only real inside our minds, actualized by our thoughts and the electrical impulses between our eyes and our brains? We don't know, and this poem sure isn't going to answer our questions, but if it at least complicates those questions, then it's enhanced our consciousness in some way.

The sun and your heart are compacted of the same substance (25)

This line stretches the boundaries of what it's possible for our physical existence to consist of. It's strange, but beautiful, to think about a human heart being made out of the same, brilliant, boiling hot substance as the sun. The sun, and the earth's perfect distance from it, are a big reason why life is possible on this planet, or so scientists say. So, the speaker is paying his lover quite a compliment when he credits her heart as being similar to the reason why we're all alive.

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