New Rule

by Anne Carson

A New Year’s white morning of hard new ice.
High on the frozen branches I saw a squirrel jump and skid.
Is this scary? he seemed to say and glanced

down at me, clutching his branch as it bobbed
in stiff recoil – or is it just that everything sounds wrong today?
The branches

clinked.
He wiped his small cold lips with one hand.
Do you fear the same things as

I fear? I countered, looking up.
His empire of branches slid against the air.
The night of hooks?

The man blade left open on the stair?
Not enough spin on it, said my true love
when he left in our fifth year.

The squirrel bounced down a branch
and caught a peg of tears.
The way to hold on is

afterwords
so
clear.

Notes on the Poem

In this simple but surprisingly layered poem, Anne Carson weaves together many subtle devices to illustrate the narrator's nervous excitement at venturing forth and making a fresh start. The day is cold and harsh as the narrator faces a new year without her true love, departed after five years. However, she has the whimsical presence of mind to find parallels in her situation with that of a squirrel making its perilous way through frozen branches. The Poetry Archive, a generous UK poetry resource and repository, notes that "an alertness to the frequency of the line-endings is part of reading poetry." Carson brings points in the poem to the alert reader's particular attention through the use of some crisply placed line-endings. "The branches clinked." That stark sound - made more striking set alone on its own line - marks an abrupt pause in the squirrel's progress. Is it a point at which the narrator, too, needs to ponder before leaping? "The way to hold on is afterwords so clear." And how about those final three lines? Are they terse, desperate, slipping, clutching? Then again, does the word "clear" have so much more impact, emphasis and resonance set all on its own?

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