In ‘Omens’ Llompart taps into themes of horror, the supernatural, and dreams. These themes are addresses loosely and hauntingly through language that is primarily concerned with creating poignant images. The mood is dark but at the same time contemplative as the speaker implicitly asks the reader to consider what each sign and symbol means and what we may or may not have lost.
Summary of Omens
The poem takes the reader through a series of images that set out a world that is less about omens, dead birds, drowned men, and dreams than it is about analysis and photographs. She juxtaposes crime scenes with ants feasting on the corpse of a dead bird in the first lines and then goes on to discuss her personal dreams and what they may or may not say about life in general.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of Omens
‘Omens’ by Cecilia Llompart is a forty-line poem that is separated into uneven stanzas. These range in length from one single line up to five lines. These lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern but that doesn’t mean that they are without either.
There are numerous examples of half-rhyme within the thirty-nine lines of ‘Omens’. Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, “smaller” and “swollen” in lines two and three as well as “outline” and “mind” at the ends of lines twelve and thirteen.
Poetic Techniques in Omens
Llompart makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Omens’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and imagery. The latter is perhaps the most important technique at play in ‘Omens’. Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses.
Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. In this case, a reader can look to the first line for a great example of this technique. It reads: “The dead bird, color of a bruise”. This dark imagery is emphasized by the use of a metaphor to describe it in more depth.
There is another good example of how imagery makes up the bulk of this poem in lines thirty, thirty-one, and thirty-two. This excerpt reads: “you were a drowned man, crown / of phosphorescent, seaweed in your hair, / water in your shoes”.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “bird” and “bruise” in line one and “cast” and “crumb” in line six.
Lastly, there is enjambment. It is an important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transitions between lines two and three as well as that between lines eighteen and nineteen. These are only two examples. There are more enjambed lines in this poem than there are that use end punctuation.
Analysis of Omens
The dead bird, a color of a bruise,
Let him cast the first crumb
In the first lines of ‘Omens’, the speaker begins by using imagery to describe a dead bird. It is metaphorically compared to the color of a bruise. It is “king among omens”. The bird is a sign, one that this speaker sees as being the most obvious and important of all important symbols. The sixth line refers to the ‘ants…feasting”. These tiny creatures are living within and resting on the flesh of the dead bird.
The fact that this line is posed as a question is an interesting way to go about acknowledging the ant’s presence. It is natural that they’d be found there. The seventh line makes use of the phrase “Let him cast the first crumb”. This is an allusion to the phrase “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” from the Bible, John 8:7.
We once tended the oracles
He does this without thinking
In the next lines of ‘Omens’ the speaker refers to the past in short sentences and phrases. She speaks about “oracles’ of the past that ‘We” once tended. But now things have changed and we rely on “a photograph” or a “fingerprint”. This sets up the image of a crime, a crime scene, and how the evidence is processed.
In the seventeenth line, the speaker alludes to this change as something that has brought with it a new absence of thought and feeling. “We” rely on the science and the process “without thinking”.
A man draws a chalk outline
There is a great example of a metaphor in the next lines. Here, Llompart compares nostalgia to “a thin moon”. It disappears into the sky “like cold, unfeeling iron”. This presents an image of a hard, emotionless world, emphasizing the previous images of “the white room” and the “great stones”. The stones, which appear to reference circles of standing stones or tombstones, are a strange and haunting addition to these lines.
In this section of the poem, the traditional stanzas dissolve and the lines/words drift without uniform indentions. This creates a gentle swaying motion, one that works with the otherworldly feeling of this section. Plus, it helps lead the reader into line twenty-nine which turns to address dreams.
What blessed thing will we leave tomorrow?
For the first time in ‘Omens’, the speaker addresses a specific listener, “you”. This person is unknown but they are the subject of a foreboding and complex dream. In it, they appear to the speaker as a “drowned man,” another clear omen, with “seaweed” in his hair and water in his shoes. The imagery and the dream itself acts as another omen, similar to the dead bird. Depending on the context, the interpretations of those around the omen, and various other beliefs it could represent any of several horrific outcomes.
The speaker also introduces another dream in which she is is “a field” though which you combed looking for something that wasn’t really lost. There is traditional dream-like desperation to these lines, akin to drowning. In the last two lines of ‘Omens’, the speaker asks two questions of the reader and intended listeners.
She wants to know what is left “at the altar of sorrow” and what thing we will “leave tomorrow”. These vague questions seem to refer back to various changes in beliefs, the prevalence and importance of omens, and human emotional connections to the past/future.