Study Guide

Proem Identity

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At times poetry is the vertigo of bodies and the vertigo of joy and the vertigo of death; (1)

Man, that's a lot of vertigo! A "vertigo of bodies" suggests, though, that poetry has the power to blend identities into a dizzying form, where it's impossible to tell up from down, left from right. In a way, this poem illustrates that very idea, as the speaker takes off—taking his identity with him—in wildly divergent directions, following the possible poetic trails that branch off at every line.

the idolatry of the self and the desecration of the self and the dissipation of the self; (7)

Ah, yes. Poetry is first and foremost about the poet (the idolatry part), but often it involves a kind of reflection that splits the poet's identity from the speaker's identity (the desecration part). As a result, poetry often starts with egocentric identity, but ends up someplace entirely other than a coherent sense of self (the dissipation part).

the beheading of epithets, the burial of mirrors; (8)

"The burial of mirrors" suggests that poetry is a way to overcome identity in a sense. Beyond merely navel-gazing and yammering on about the self all day long, poetry allows us to take on other personae, other perspectives, and, in short, other identities that remove us form simply checking ourselves out in the mirror constantly.

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