Saturday, July 12, 2014

Poem of the Day: "Bess" by William E. Stafford, Poet of the Month

The Songs of Eretz Poem of the Day for July 12, 2014 is "Bess" by William E. Stafford, Poet of the Month.  Mr. Stafford's work has been reviewed previously here:, where a brief biography and references may be found.  The text of "Bess" may be found here:

Notice the skill with which Stafford uses enjambment in this elegy, sometimes to create suspense, sometimes to create double meaning, sometimes to create a sudden change in mood:

The first line starts out in a positive, happy mood until the enjambed last word of the first sentence is discovered in the first word of the second line.

The fifth line ends as Bess' "hand went out."  The reader is briefly left hanging.  "Her hand went out" for what?  A bribe?  To shoo people away?  We find out in the enjambed beginning of the next line--"her had went out / to help."

In the seventh line, it appears that Bess did her best to spare her friends' feelings "from knowing" about her sickness.  No doubt she did, as from the entire poem we see that Bess was that kind of person.  However, another meaning is created in the enjambed words of the next line--"she had to keep her friends from knowing / how happy they were."  In other words, she listened to their complaints, all the while biting her tongue to resist saying, "at least you aren't dying from a painful cancer."

The last word of the first stanza creates a shocking double meaning when placed in the context of the enjambed first word of the second stanza, enhanced here by the double break of both line and stanza.

The penultimate line ends with "her hand opened," which harkens us back to the fifth line.  But this time, we see as the enjambment continues in the last line that her hand opened in death and in a kind of wave of goodbye as "she wished all well."

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