Study Guide

The Layers Sound Check

By Stanley Kunitz

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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.

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