No Less by Alice B. Fogel discusses the strange impact decisions and memories can have on a person. While some decisions seem easy, those are the memories that will hold you down the most, while the hardest moments in life may be the ones that set you free to ‘float’.
Summary of No Less
As you move through life, you pick up more stones. Yet, some of these can hold you down, the ones you thought were the right thing to do actually leading you to be stuck in a location. Alternatively, Fogel argues that the decisions that seem most difficult in life sometimes end up being the thing that alleviates you all the weight, letting you ‘float’ free. It is an incredibly complex poem that draws upon metaphysical ideas of the past, possible pasts, and the ability to change your own circumstance.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure in No Less
Alice B. Fogel splits the poem into eight stanzas of unequal lengths, all measuring between one and three lines. This seemingly random nature to stanza length is reflective of the unpredictability of decisions in life, one thing leading someone on a completely different path than their life may have taken.
Paradoxes are used frequently by Fogel within the poem. She says things that are contradicting each other or creates sentences that wind in meaning, having many interpretations. There is a purposeful strangeness to the poem which is perhaps a reflection of life itself. Fogel is trying to capture a sense of the random nature of life, things not always being perfect or making complete sense.
Similarly to this, Fogel uses repetition and echos words and phrases throughout the poem to create a sense of confusion. Homonyms, for example, ‘light’ and ‘light’ are used next to each other in a different context – one meaning the light source and one meaning weight.
No Less Analysis
It was twilight all day.
The first stanza is comprised of only one line, instantly being contrasted against the rest of the poem. Fogel decides to capture a sense of the oncoming strangeness by setting No Less at ‘twilight’, a time which is neither day nor night. This in-between state is continued throughout the poem, with even the poem itself conveying several different meanings.
The fact that this singular time, ‘twilight’, continues ‘all day’ brings a sense of impossibility and uncertainty to No Less. The poet indeed makes statements of ‘what could have been’ later in the poem, so this idea of impossibility captures the atmosphere of the poem excellently in the first line.
Sometimes the smallest things weigh us down,(…)admiring and palming.
The opening statement in this stanza is perhaps the most straight forward of the whole poem. Fogel argues that ‘stones’, representing memories or doubts (depending on how you want to read No Less ) can ‘weigh us down’, holding us to a place or a person that we otherwise would have drifted away from. These things are picked up subconsciously, ‘we can’t help’ doing this, it just happens as life goes on. We ‘admire’ these moments, collecting the ‘small stones’ as we go.
Here and throughout No Less, Fogel has a great focus on the idea that it is these small moments which make a large difference, ‘sometimes the smallest things weigh us down’, those which we never even realized would impact us. She comments on how seemingly insubstantial memories and moments can play on our memories, captivating us when at the moment they were insignificant.
Look at the tiny way(…)Look at the heavy gray dome of its sky.
Fogel continues the idea of small size, focusing on the ‘tiny’ vein of ‘light’ trapped in the stone. If the ‘stone’ is understood as doubt, it can be a moment of clarity in a ‘heavy gray dome’ of uncertainty. Or, if the ‘stone’ is understood as a memory, it can be a moment of happiness in an otherwise ‘gray’ and unhappy period. Fogel could be arguing that we are stuck in unhappy places only because we are weighed down by tiny moments of happiness that we remember from the past. This could be applied to places or people, either works for the metaphor.
Stanza Four, Five, and Six
This is no immutable world.(…)What fills the stones fills us.
Fogel uses another paradoxical statement, the double negative of ‘no immutable’ actually canceling itself out to mean that this ‘is’ a changeable ‘world’. Fogel remains actively misleading and covering the meaning of her poem under layers of these confusing statements. Much like the nature of memory, Fogel suggests that reality is hard to pin down and verify.
The poet continues to talk about ‘Atoms’ and ‘Light’, both ‘light as air’ and ‘rushing through’. Fogel conveys a sense of motion to these stanzas, the workings of the universe are directly contrasted to the weighed down poet. While she is stuck in her situation because of memories and the past, ‘light’, ‘atoms’ and the universe continues to flow. The ‘stones’, representing memories are made from these ‘atoms’, being ‘boulders, grains’ themselves.
I remember, or I have a feeling,(…)weighted down the way we aren’t now.
After this metaphysical portion of No Less, Fogel then moves back to discussing her own life. In a moment of clarity, she writes that ‘I could be living somewhere with you’, suggesting that she could be in another part of the world with a different person, her life completely changed if she had kept different ‘stones’ close to her, kept different memories alive and important. She could have been ‘weighted down’ different, still carrying memories but ones that would have changed who she is and where she is.
The communal ‘we’ suggests a close connection between the poet and the person she is talking about. It seems that deep down Fogel wishes for the opportunity to see how her life would have turned out in this different pathway.
Often the greatest things,(…)are the very ones that float.
Fogel reflects that maybe the decisions in life that seem the hardest, those which carry you far away from home or those you know would seem the ‘heaviest’ stones to carry. Yet, those are the ones that change your life, that liberate you from the normal and set you free, allowing you to ‘float’. The metaphor culminates in the idea that while some decisions pin you down to one place, some have the option to let you float, to change your life and your circumstances.