Amaze by Adelaide Crapsey is a cinquain that addresses the confusion and hesitance the narrator has in regard to her aging and the bodily signs of that aging. That confusion is mirrored in the odd choices of sentence structure that, while they do not quite read naturally, are still discernable enough to understand. The plot itself becomes a bit uncertain as well in regard to whose “hands” the narrator remembers as being similar to the “hands” she currently has—perhaps a less-aged version of herself or an older family member. This concept boosts the representation of the narrator’s confusion and solidifies it as the poem’s main theme.
Not these my hands
This statement, at its core, is a simple declaration of life’s changes, but there is a deeper meaning represented that can be uncovered through a closer inspection. Specifically, the phrasing reads in a confusing manner. The narrator does not say “I do not know my hands,” which would be the clearest way to give this information. Rather, she has chosen to use phrasing that is more formal, through the structure of “know [n]ot,” and she is making use of the unnecessary pronoun, “these.” Strictly speaking, “I know not my hands” would be sufficient, but the word choice forces that unneeded “these” into the equation. This can speak of the confusion the narrator feels as she looks at her “hands” that have aged, whether through a loss of mental capacity or just a shock of noting that her life has rushed past.
It is important to note, however, that while the wording is confusing, it is never so confusing as to be impossible to understand. The awkwardness remains at a superficial level, which could indicate clarity of thought beneath her uncertainty about the aging process. This idea would give a hint as to what is causing the narrator’s confusion since it would remove mental incapacity as a possible culprit. To keep the coherency intact underneath the odd wording would require a sharp mind, and this notion leaves all of the confusion at the doorstep of the narrator’s shock in regard to the aging process.
Basically, the narrator wants the reader to know that she is confused—but she wants the reader to understand why. This presentation of atypically formed sentences that are still coherent mimics that prospect perfectly. The structure is confusing, but the meaning is still intact.
The addition of “these,” as well, is providing an extra bit of direction toward the “hands” to build emphasis on the physical features that have caused the narrator such distress. They are the core representation of her aging, making the added emphasis a strengthening method for the poem’s meaning.
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
The confusion of the first two lines continues with oddly constructed pairings of ideas. For instance, there is no grammatical necessity to say “And” before “yet.” Grammatically, “Yet I think” would be sufficient, but again, the narrator utilizes that unneeded word to stress a sense of confusion. The uncertainty continues in that, whereas in the first two lines, the narrator uses “know” as the verb connected to her ideas, the word choice for the third line turns to “think,” which lacks the certainty of “know.”
It seems then that as Amaze progresses, the narrator becomes less sure, which could indicate that the passage of time causes her greater confusion. This would be the case if her mental capacity were being lost through some illness, but also in general as her life continues to rush toward its end. The closer that end becomes, the more she is being separated from the known life she has lived and moved toward something she has never embraced. That would push her further into growing uncertainty, and that idea is reflected through the shift to “think” instead of “know.”
Another grammatical bit of confusion afforded in these lines is that there is no subject before “had hands.” The reader can infer that the narrator is referring to the “woman like” her, but there is no need “who” to link that description of the person to the “hands” themselves. Once more, the wording makes sense, but it lacks the structure to make it as clear and crisp as it could be.
As a further strength of forsaking this simple word, the confusion in regard to who this person is elevated as well. By not saying “who,” essentially, the narrator is revealing how unimportant that “who” is to the story, particularly when added to the fact that the narrator never expressly states the identity of the person in the poem. Instead, the reader is only told that although the narrator “know[s] [n]ot” her “hands,” she does see the similarity between them and the “hands” she saw “once” on this “woman like” her.
So who is this “woman” whose importance is, based on the sentence structure, so lacking to the poem’s tale? The reader can easily decide the narrator means her earlier self, indicating she is recalling a more youthful appearance of her “hands.” Another explanation, however, could be that she is remembering the “hands” of a mother or grandmother who had grown wrinkled and aged through time, which would boost the level of confusion the narrator feels over her own “hands.” There was a time, basically, that someone else was the aged person, and to realize she has become that person could be a deeply meaningful and introspective moment. That introspection is the key idea at work, which is why removing the “who” concept is genius. “Who” does not matter—only that the narrator has changed.
Overall, the aging process has created in this narrator’s own “hands” something that does not reflect who she believes herself to be. This can be seen as a statement of how humans withstand the aging and even regard it with fear and hesitation. The passage of time can feel so fleeting that realizing how much of it has passed can be jarring enough to create confusion, and the nostalgia of what life used to be can cause these moments of self-realization to be sad and painful.
In fact, within this poem, the attitude toward the process seems to be resistant—since she declares she “know[s] not” her “hands”—and surreal enough to cause her uncertainty to increase into the realm of “think[ing]” rather than “know[ing].” Those feelings of uncertainty are expressed in her word choices, and they are the primary theme of the poem.
About Adelaide Crapsey
Adelaide Crapsey was born in 1878 and died in 1914, both events occurring in the state of New York. She is noted as “the inventor of the cinquain.” Additionally, she struggled with tuberculosis, and her thoughts on death—potentially sparked from her sickness—can be found within her poems.