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February 19, 2009

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The last two lines have me completely flummoxed. Here's someone who lives in a place with a door with no lock, presumably waiting (implied by the "it went many years / but at last") so anyone can enter. When someone wants to, though, he runs and hides. But what does he mean by "alter with age"? Please weigh in!

This poem provoked a lively dinner discussion and someone proposed that the visitor is the "real self" of the narrator. I still can't quite get my mind around the last two lines though. Is the visitor age? I note that the poem follows the same structure Frost used for "Come In," another poem about escaping from something (death, old age).

Hi Stacey,
Yeah, I'm not sure about those last lines either. I was reading around in the Thompson biography last night and came across some background on "The Lockless Door." Thomson doesn't really explain it, but he does shed some interesting light. I think I'll post about it later today. So glad it caught your fancy! Mine too!

I'm wondering if the key isn't in the first stanza, not the last. Is the speaker reflecting "ages and ages hence"; that is, "It" isn't the time preceding the first knock, but the time after a primal incident long ago before a second knock (in the present) starts up in him a revery about that past experience. The door is the charged totem or fetish--I think of the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey--he prays in fear in front of it, after all--but the "knock" takes our vision off it. In fact, it replaces our visual image of the door with an aural image of the sound of the knock. The vast majority of images in poems are visual; the other four senses get shorter shrift. So when that knock happens, it stuns; it's not unlike the knocking at the gate in Macbeth: it brings feelings from the other world, the unnatural one where murder and psychic obliteration can occur. The fear that courses through the being that then escapes is akin to a primal fear of obliteration that, say, a bird, a canary, feels as it leaves its cage and escapes through a window. Like the canary, the poet's soul, psychic being, mental state, whatever, hides in plain sight in the world, but is never seen; and it alters with age, as the speaker, ages hence, is commenting on, still with a shiver for that lockless door. Or not.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
                   

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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THE RULE OF THUMB
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Ringfinger was nervous
Pinky terrified
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.

 

 


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