‘Poem’ by James Schuyler is written on the ‘beauty’ of the natural world, focusing on how it is always fleeting. Seeing beautiful images always seem transitory to the poet, like day and night always fading into one another. The most beautiful sights of the natural world cannot remain forever, with Schuyler exploring the temporary beauty of life.
‘Poem’ by James Schuyler begins by discussing ‘beauty that I see’, followed by a description of the sun touching the world. Light and the sun are at the center of these ideas, with the light breeze accompanying the ‘passing’ light. When night arrives, Schuyler examines the ‘moon’ and ‘stars’, finding further beauty in the dead of night. Yet, even these things are always moving, always passing on and fading out. Even pools of water catching leaves will eventually freeze and be gone. The final image is of water, both discussing literally the movement and also being emblematic of the world’s beauty, ‘it goes, it goes’, transient and beautiful.
You can read the full poem Poem here.
‘Poem’ is written in free verse form, as one continuous stanza. There is no rhyme scheme and the meter and syllable count are inconsistent. There are 19 lines in total, measuring five words at the maximum. In employing this constrained structure, perhaps Schuyler is furthering the idea that everything will fade out of existence. The short line structure of the poem reflecting this ‘passing’ of images moving from one to another. The poem is incredibly short, which could again symbolize the fleeting beauty of nature.
Schuyler employs enjambment within ‘Poem’ to emphasize the ‘passing’ aspect of nature. All the images outlined within the poem are transitory, day flowing into the night and vice-versa. The flowing from one line to another, due to the use of enjambment, therefore comes to represent the larger passing of time. The easy flow across the poem when reading also suggests a delicate sense of beauty, the poem being aurally swift to read due to the lack of metrical disruption.
Another technique that Schuyler employs when writing ‘Poem’ is imagery, being the very core of this poem. He focuses on ‘the sun going down’, ‘A moon,/full and flat, and stars’, to portray the central focus of ‘Poem’, the beauty of nature being displayed through the poet’s use of imagery. Imagery allows the reader to visualize the beauty of nature, detailed images of the sun, and moon illuminating the poem.
This beauty that I see
The opening line of the poem is important for several reasons, both defining the intention and central subject of the poem, while also being grammatically separated from the rest of the poem due to the hyphen on the second line. Instantly, Schuyler suggests this poem is about ‘beauty’, communicating the natural beauty of the world is the core intent of the poem.
Schuyler also focuses on the personal pronoun ‘I’, the sense that he is experiencing this through his own eyes giving the poem a personal sense. The poet could also be writing in line with the general attitudes of humanity, the poem shifting into a human appreciation of the beauties of nature. This aligns with Schuyler’s depiction of great, common, beauties of nature, such as the sun and moon – something everyone can see and experience.
-the sun going down
would ship a cloud-
Within these lines, Schuyler creates segregation of the first image within two hyphens. The image is of ‘the sun going down’, the ‘light’ that reflects off the world then coupling with ‘the wind’ to create a beautiful depiction of earth.
The focus on ‘sun’ is a fundamental source of beauty within nature. It not only brings life but also can be connected with light. Light is often a symbol of hope and happiness, the illumination it brings here compounding the beauty of nature. Yet, it is a sun ‘going down’, Schuyler always focusing on the notion that beauty is always fading, it is urgent to look and examine nature right now as it may never be the same afterward.
The consonance of ‘w’ across ‘within and the wind/ whips them as it/ would’ aurally reflects the passing of the wind. The certain whistle associated with ‘wind’ is mirrored through the extended ‘w’ sound, Schuyler creating a sense of sound within the image. This furthers the beauty of nature, with the poem depicting its images both with word and sound.
The focus on a ‘cloud’ is light and careless. The beautiful image of the single cloud is a further focus of Schuyler’s appreciation of nature.
This image is enclosed within hyphens, grammatically isolating this portion from the rest of the poem. In doing this, Schuyler enforces a metrical break at the beginning and end of each line, inserting a pause before discussing and breaking from the image. This furthers the beauty of nature, Schuyler taking a moment before launching into its depiction. Furthermore, by isolating this image from the rest of the poem, it gains emphasis, being structurally highlighted.
is passing so swiftly
it goes, it goes.
There is always a central idea that what Schuyler is examining is fading away. This is true for the first image, day ‘passing so swiftly/into night’. Even when ‘night’ arrives, depicted by the beauty of ‘stars’, they too are ‘a freight train passing’. The image of a ‘freight’ suggesting a never-ending train that plows on through day and night, much like the constant rotation of the earth and subsequent day and night cycle.
The double repetition of ‘passing’ further emphasizes this fact of the fleeting beauty of a moment. Although day and night will come back, this moment right now is limited, always ‘passing’ on into oblivion.
The final image of the poem focuses on water, ‘Beaty that collects/dry leaves in pools’, drawing in aspects of nature. Water itself is an image of passing, the constant shift of state into a gas and back to liquid reflecting this idea of change.
The final line of the poem repeats itself, ‘it goes, it goes’, closing the poem on this soft refrain. The idea of repetition could reflect the day and night cycle that has been explored within the poem, Schuyler pointing to the never-ending coming and going of these states. This line also serves to finish the poem on a sense of transience, the movement implied within ‘goes’ suggesting the fleeting aspect of nature. Nature is incredibly beautiful, yet always moving and changing – making itself different only to become whole again.