‘Alarum‘ is written in an experimental form, utilizing numerous slashes to emphasize division. The poet wanted to keep the reader focused on how much ground has to be covered in order to resolve the issues she touches on. The climate crisis and the resulting loss of species, and perhaps even the loss of humanity itself, is on the table.
This poem can be found in Amanda Gorman’s 2021 collection, Call Us What We Carry.
‘Alarum’ by Amanda Gorman is a powerful poem that focuses on the changes brought about by the climate crisis and what can be done.
The poem, the title of which is an archaic word for “alarm,” reminds the reader of all that can and has been lost due to climate change. The speaker focuses on the concept of division and how there is so much separation between people in regard to the nature of the climate crisis and what can or should be done. The poet describes the immensity of what can and has been lost as well as how remembering the loss is important, but it’s not the same as never losing the thing in the first place. Extinction is occurring at all times, and the alarm has to be rung continuously.
We’re writing as the daughter of a / dying world / as its new-
beside. Our loss / colossal & blossomed / is never lost on
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by noting how she, and others like her, are writing amid a dying world. The poet may be referring to the young people, the artists, the poets, and activists as the last voices of a world suffering the effects of climate change.
The speaker notes that “division” is an integral part of the “divided” world. “We,” one group of people, or individuals, are divided from others people, “person/person.”
The poet uses a simile in the following line, describing how “Some griefs” are like rivers that are “uncross / able.” Gorman’s creative use of the slashes in these lines helps to emphasize the gulf that “we” have to cross to come together.
The rivers of grief can’t be crossed. She continues, they have to be “walked beside.” They are too big to be crossed. It’s at this point that she transitions into her main message about the “Earth” and how we have “failed it.”
us. Love the earth / like we’ve failed it. / To put it plain / we
in the making. / What is now dust will not return, / not
The next lines note that we have “shipwrecked the earth,” driven it aground in a way that has “spoiled the soil.” The future needs “us,” the current inhabitants of the planet, to toll the bell and remain alarmed about what’s happening to the earth.
The line “Man is a myth /in the making” is quite effective. It suggests that humanity will go extinct, like other species on earth, until one day, in the future, the concept of humanity will seem like a myth.
the beloveds / nor their breath / nor the sugar-crumbling
brought forth / in memory / in mouth / in mind. To say it
plain is to tell / only half / of the story.
The speaker notes that the things lost now are not going to come back. There’s not a way to recover “the beloveds / nor the breath.” Extinction is going on all the time, from the crumbling glaciers to animals and plants worldwide. They are “slashed / down / in one smogged / swoop.” She uses alliteration in these lines to lend them power.
There is much in the world that can’t ever be brought back. This should increase one’s desperation to improve the world. No matter how much one talks about “it,” that which is lost, that is still only “half / of the story.” Remembering what’s lost is important, but it is not the same thing as never losing it in the first place.
Structure and Form
‘Alarum’ by Amanda Gorman is an eighteen-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines are written in free verse. This means that they do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Readers will immediately notice Gorman’s use of slashes in this piece. Traditionally, slashes are used in poetry to show line separation when multiple lines are quoted together outside of the poem. In this case, Gorman uses them to emphasize the separation between people and concepts.
Throughout this piece, Gorman makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four as well as lines six and seven.
- Alliteration: a feature commonly seen in Gorman’s poetry. It occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “division, divided” in line three and “beside” and “blossomed” in line six.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “have shipwrecked the earth / soiled the soil / & run the ground aground.”
- Allusion: occurs when the poet refers to something that’s not explicitly explained in the poem. In this case, the speaker is referring to the divisions between groups when it comes to broad issues, like the climate crisis.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other Amanda Gorman poems. For example:
- ‘Memorial’ – a poem about the past and how poets are able to use their writing to help readers relive it.
- ‘The Hill We Climb’ – a moving depiction of the United States as it was on the cusp of President Biden’s inauguration in 2021.
- ‘Chorus of the Captains’ – an occasional poem written for and performed at the 52nd Super Bowl. It describes the work of three American heroes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The term is an archaic way of saying “alarm.” It suggests that the alarm she’s ringing in the poem is an old one, one that should’ve been resolved long ago but, until it is, has to be continually rung.
The main themes at work in this poem are climate change and division. It is because of the latter that the former is still a serious threat to humanity. Without resolving the divisions embodied through the slashes, society is on a terrible path.
The speaker may be Gorman herself. But, whoever it is meant to be, they understand the climate crisis in a noteworthy way and are unwilling to hide from the terrible consequences that could be on the way.