Epitaph: Thaw

Anne Carson

copyright ©2000 Anne Carson

Little clicks all night in the back lane there blackness
        Goes leaking out the key.
“It twindles,” said Father to April on her
        Anvil of deep decree.

Notes on the Poem

This enigmatic but captivating quatrain from Anne Carson's 2001 Griffin Poetry Prize winning collection Men in the Off Hours fascinates endlessly. What are some of the intriguing paths the poem leads us down? Since it possibly doesn't conventionally fit what is expected, let's quickly remind ourselves what an epitaph is: a short poem intended for (or imagined as) an inscription on a tombstone and often serving as a brief elegy (as defined in the Poetry Foundation glossary). Who or what is this poem commemorating? Is it Father, who speaks briefly and obscurely? Is it April? Is April a person ("her/Anvil of deep decree" might suggest someone who was very judgemental) or the month (as "thaw" would suggest)? Do poems like this stand well on their own, or are they best read in the context of an entire collection, sequence or series? (Well, we're only looking at just this one, but if you have Men in the Off Hours - and what Anne Carson fan doesn't - we invite you to comment here and let us know if singling this poem out diminishes its impact or power.) Boston Review reviewer John D'Agata characterized all of the poems in this collection designated as "epitaphs" in an interesting fashion: "the tiny "Epitaphs" strewn throughout the book like little tombstones carved in soap." Carved in soap rather than stone suggests this and the other epitaphs will froth, dissolve (thaw?) and certainly not endure. We're not sure if we're charmed or mildly perturbed about the "little clicks all night in the back lane", but even more concerning is that the blackness is "leaking out the key" ... not the keyhole? Carson leaves us wondering long, long after the poem concludes.

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