Study Guide

The Layers Sound Check

By Stanley Kunitz

Sound Check

This poem is meditative and reflective in tone, by and large, but that makes the dynamic moments screech all the louder. When the speaker gets emotionally stirred-up in this poem, we can hear it—like in this exclamatory cry of grief: "My tribe is scattered!" (19), and in this hyper-dramatic question: "How shall the heart be reconciled / to its feast of losses?" (20-21). These little sound dynamos give the poem a nice ebb and flow. They keep the poem eventful without overstaying their welcome (who wants to read a poem full of shouting, after all?).

In terms of wordplay that titillates the tongue, there are a couple gems to note. Repetition takes place in line 26, "Yet I turn, turn," and lines 28-29, "with my will intact to go, / wherever I need to go." Since these repeated words are all bunched together within four lines, they pack an even greater kick, enacting the very qualities they are describing: changing, turning, and moving forward.

Similarly, line 37, "Live in the layers," and line 38, "not on the litter," employ slant rhyme and also contain alliteration with recurring, initial L sounds. If we count the syllables in line 37 and line 38, we see that they each contain five syllables. These techniques combine to give the lines a catchy ring and cadence (or rhythm), making them stand out in our ears as a key takeaway for both speaker and reader.