[Analysis] « Details of the Woods » by Richard Siken

« I looked at all the trees and didn’t know what to do.

A box made out of leaves.
What else was in the woods? A heart, closing. Nevertheless.

Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else.
I kept my mind on the moon. Cold moon, long nights moon.

From the landscape: a sense of scale.
From the dead: a sense of scale.

I turned my back on the story. A sense of superiority.
Everything casts a shadow.

Your body told me in a dream it’s never been afraid of anything. »

 


 

[thoughts]

The first time I read this poem, I felt strangely moved, even quite shaken, but didn’t really grasp the meaning of it. I felt as if something else -something bigger- went on behind the words and I felt its might without seeing it.

I found out, reading Richard Siken’s poems (I recommend Details of the Woods but also his prose poem Language of the Birds, which I find marvelling) that I do like contemporary English and American poetry very much. I sensed it quite a while ago, while reading and translating William Carlos Williams or Lyn Hejinian, but reading and loving a third contemporary poet right on the spot proved my point.

Just as I realized it, I also found out I like contemporary poetry because I can never quite grasp the meaning of it right away.
I have this feeling– that if I want to go on analyze the poem, I can, and I will be allowed to see its might properly; but if I don’t want to see and prefer to just wonder without knowing (and wondering without knowing is a beautiful concept in itself), I can just as well. I think this is a rare double-option. I am amazed by it.

(Then again, I find myself amazed with many small things in life, but it doesn’t spare the beauty of it all.)

Tonight I allowed myself to go a little further and analyze what I read. It’s more of an impression than a true analyze but I want to write it down so I don’t forget it.

 


 

[analysis]

One possible meaning of the poem resides entirely on the key-sentence: « Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else. »
The whole poem is about finding your own place, outside of someone else; be able to stand as a whole. Be able to be independant, or to grow out of someone’s grasp. Maybe about walking out of an abusive relationship– but maybe just about being you and not living through another person.

« I looked at all the trees and didn’t know what to do. »

The poet, right here, has just found his own place, symbolized by the woods. He came there, maybe by accident, and just stands there, slowly realizing and contemplating how it feels to be alone. He has never felt this way -not in a long time at least- and finds himself estranged to this newborn solitude.

« A box made out of leaves.
What else was in the woods? A heart, closing. Nevertheless. »

My opinion is, this box (‘made out of leaves’, which, contrary to the trees, won’t grow for they have already died) keeps all memories of his previous relationship, where he lived through his partner. Along with his memories, his heart is already in the woods; it’s his mind (himself) that has to go the distance.
His heart is closing, because he doesn’t get to be himself anymore. But the « nevertheless » links this stanza to the following one. There is a solution to your uneasiness:

« Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else.
I kept my mind on the moon. Cold moon, long nights moon. »

There. There is the solution. You have to find the strength to look out to your own place, and settle down there, or you will get overwhelmed by the other. You have to exist by yourself.
But it’s hard to realize that all at once, and so the poet/narrator keeps his mind of something else– the moon, which doesn’t seem very comforting but is at the same time charactized (almost personified) as the ‘long nights moon’, the one that kept him company when he couldn’t sleep. Like all of us, in times of trouble, he focuses on the familiar.

« From the landscape: a sense of scale.
From the dead: a sense of scale. »

I still don’t really get these verses, but I think he is finally trying the woods as they are, what surrounds him and what is already dead — maybe his relationship is, while his inner self -the trees- is growing, verdant. He derives from this impression a sense of scale, of size: finally, he becomes aware of his own self and its proportion (it’s not just somebody’s other body part).

« I turned my back on the story. A sense of superiority.
Everything casts a shadow.

Your body told me in a dream it’s never been afraid of anything. »

He lets go of the relationship he still held on to, and feels he has accomplished something here.
Still, ‘everything casts a shadow’: the memory of that relationship and the love still remains, and they are the transition to the last verse:
Even the body of his previous lover told him it’s never been afraid of anything. It’s in a dream, which is poetically speaking the vision of the ideal: what you could develop from this is, ‘in a dream, you told me you’ve never been afraid of anything, and I shouldn’t either.’ He’s reversed and retrieved even his most painful memory (his lover) and turned it into a inspirational dream. He is ready to let go and exist on his own: he’s made the memories his own, and they can’t hurt him anymore.

 

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