The poem is quite short, but in its concise lines, the speaker conveys a depth of feeling. Due to the lack of specific details, the poem is also widely relatable. Many different readers are going to be able to take something from ‘Origin of the Marble Forest’ and feel as though it applies to their own lives.
Explore Origin of the Marble Forest
‘Origin of the Marble Forest’ by Gregory Orr is a short, compelling poem about a speaker’s relationship to people in his past.
The poem is only five lines long, but it is quite effective. In it, the speaker spends the lines having a discussion with someone, perhaps themselves, about their past and the people who were a part of it. They say that people are “bodies” dotting their past. By using “bodies,” they’re distancing themselves from these people while also suggesting something about the nature of their relationship. They are told to “let go” of them, but the speaker wants them to remain, as stone, creating the “marble forest” referenced in the title.
You can read the full poem here.
Childhood dotted with bodies.
In the first lines of ‘Origin of the Marble Forest,’ the speaker begins by describing their childhood, or at least their memory of it. They see it as “dotted with bodies.” These bodies, which lack definition, represent the connections the speaker had to the people from his youth. By describing the people, they knew as “bodies,” they’re ensuring the reader understands them as emotionless and cold. They should be, the second line suggests, be let go and left to be “ghosts.”
Although there are only a few details in these lines, readers can interpret a great deal. The speaker doesn’t define their past or relationships, but it’s clear that they were lacking in some way. Perhaps they were emotionless, or perhaps the speaker is so scarred by them that the people have become solidified in some way that’s impossible to break up.
make them stay, make them stone.
The fourth line is a response to the third. In it, the speaker declares that “No,” they aren’t going to let the “bodies” from their past go. These are the only connections they have. For better or worse, they define the speaker’s past and how they became who they are. Perhaps, the speaker is clinging to them as the only remnants of who they were/are, or maybe by declaring that they become “stone,” the speaker is ensuring they never forget what these “bodies” represented. It’s possible to interpret this poem positively or negatively, but the latter is far more likely. The speaker’s tone feels more desperate and needy than it does resilient and defiant.
Structure and Form
‘Origin of the Marble Forest’ by Gregory Orr is a five-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines are written in free verse. This means that the poem does not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The poem is quite short, so each choice the poet made is important. This includes where he chose to begin and end lines and where the punctuation falls (if he uses any).
Throughout ‘Origin of the Marble Forest,’ Orr makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “go” and “ghosts” in lines two and three and “said” and “stone” in lines four and five.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. For example, “make them stay, make them stone.” This can be done through the use of punctuation or through a natural pause in the meter.
- Repetition: can be seen when the same phrase is used more than once, an image is repeated, a structure is used in multiple lines, and more. In this case, the poet uses “make them” twice in the last line and “Let them” twice in the second line.
Throughout this poem, the speaker discusses their childhood and the way that figures from their past are a remnant part of their life. These stone bodies are the metaphorical “marble forest” references in the title.
The tone of this poem is desperate and determined. The speaker needs these bodies to stay in their mind and as part of their life, and they are incapable of letting them go.
The mood of this poem is generally curious and perhaps empathetic. Depending on the reader, some people may sympathize with what the speaker is saying more than others. The general allusions to the past make the poem widely relatable.
The themes of this poem include the past, relationships, and childhood. The speaker’s relationship to his own past, to those who were a part of it, is complicated. It’s clear there are some bad emotions in the mix, but it’s unclear exactly which or why.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Origin of the Marble Forest’ by Gregory Orr should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Like Dolmens Round My Childhood, the Old People’ by John Montague – depicts the lives and deaths of older people the speaker knew well.
- ‘We Remember Your Childhood Well’ by Carol Ann Duffy – utilizes the harsh, unsympathetic voice of the narrator and the unheard voice of a child.
- ‘My Mother’s Music’ by Emilie Buchwald -is a dedication to childhood happiness, touching on nostalgia for the inability to return to that youthful bliss.