Essay / poetry / reading / Uncategorized

Following Discovery: Considering Self-Acknowledgement After Reading “The Answer” by Agnes Lee


“Before Sunrise” taken January 15, 2010 by mimathology. Flickr Creative Commons:

After much searching I found what I was looking for, but now that I have I don’t know what to do. I messaged a dear friend; she said talk to friends, talk to your therapist. She said, I love you. I said, I love you too.

In times of unknowing I also turn to literature. I search poetry for the “answer.” My results from the Poetry Foundation website provide an array of poems with the word “answer” in the title, but for some reason I find myself reading and re-reading a short poem from the May 1917 issue of Poetry Magazine: “The Answer” by Agnes Lee. 

Lee’s poem is four stanzas: octet, couplet, octet, couplet; each line employs an end stop–the octets use commas or em dashes. Lee also uses a period at the end of the fourth line in each octet, and the first stanza ends with a question mark:

Wave, wave,

you seem to be dreaming—

Wave, wave—

In the sunbeams warm.

What are you, what are you—

Wave, wave—

Of the changing form?

I am intrigued by these choices and I welcome the distraction. Lee’s subtle and quiet image of the wave that appears to dream in the sun’s rays lulls in and out of each line of the poem, but it is the speaker that seems to ‘speak like a wave.’ Lee allows the speaker to pause, sometimes at length while the italicized couplets (the wave’s response) come full stop, which is something a wave cannot do (or at least I do not think so):

I am a round bright beautiful wave.

All day with my ripples the shore I pave.

For some reason, I find her use of form and punctuation comforting even though I sense there is something more complex in her end-stops then I can understand. But I guess that’s what happens when struck by uncertainty. If each italicized couplet is the voice of he wave and each line ends with a period, how is it possible for the wave to stop? Where does the period appear on the shoreline? Shouldn’t the couplet lines enjamb to continue movement of the wave? Why does the speakers voice resemble the rhythmic lull instead of the wave itself? What is the answer?

My desire to be literal creates a problem, but does not stunt the pleasure I receive from Lee’s poem; I am too much in awe of the last couplet:

I have no thought of a life or a grave.

I am a round bright beautiful wave.

The wave has no care or worries for the ships that ride its sea, but considers its own beauty above all else.  I wonder: if I too could accept something beautiful in myself would I have care or worry? Would I remain concerned to find an answer?




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