Sean O'Brien

copyright ©Sean O'Brien 2011

I remember the girl leaning down from the sunlight
To greet me. I could have been anyone. She could not:
She was Josie, remember, and smiling – she knew me already –
Auburn gate-girl to the garden-world,
To the lilacs and pears, the first summer
Seen perfectly once, then never again. And she left.
The garden – the garden, of course, has gone under the stone
And I cannot complain, a half-century gone
Like the cherry tree weeping its resin,
The dry grass, the slab of white marble
The butcher propped up in the back yard to sit on –
Things of the world that the world has no need of,
No more than of Josie or me or that morning.
Still a child as I see now, she leaned down
To smile as she reached out her brown hands to greet me
As though this were how these matters must be
And would be forever amen. She was saying goodbye.
And I cannot complain. What is under the stone
Must belong there, and no voice returns,
Not mine and not hers, though I’m speaking her name.

Notes on the Poem

Wielded as a poetic device, repetition can achieve any number of powerful and pervasive impressions. Sean O'Brien uses that device sparingly in the poem "Josie", to subtle and moving effect. Let's visit this quietly affecting poem again. Repeating a sound, word, phrase, fragment, line, stanza, or some other pattern or element within a poem can have subliminal, sensory, emotional and other types of impact. The frequency and form of repetition either intensifies or more carefully interweaves the effect in the poem, which can be stirring, pleasurable, maybe provoking. Poetic repetition at its best, however overt or suggestive, is always memorable. In Sean O'Brien's wistful remembrance of a girl named Josie, he repeats two phrases: "I cannot complain" and "under the stone". He only repeats each of them once. The contexts in which the phrases are used are very different. The passages of time and circumstance between the two instances is both vast and intimate. The minimal but telling use of repetition strikes a profound and touching chord. Glowing images in this poem also help to build its sense of nostalgia. The simplicity of the words and phrasing underscore the poem's quiet, noble, understated yearning. The echo of those two phrases frames it all poignantly.

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