You Know All This by Kenneth Koch discusses how relationships can last beyond their expiration date, memories still impacting the people involved long after they have separated. The poem explores the power of memory, while also depicting how relationships can impact those involved negatively.
You Know All This by Kenneth Koch begins by exploring ‘the first…year’, with the poet arriving somewhere new. The first three stanzas follow this format, each year Koch’s appreciation for the city he has arrived into changing, focusing on features of a different season and emotions in each stanza. It seems that it is within the third year of being in this new city that Koch finds a partner. Yet, while incredibly passionate, depicted through the metaphor of a lit match, their relationship eventually burns out. His partner ignites him, while he seems to slow them down with him ‘somnambular’ way of life. Although they were together for a ‘year’, it seems that they were not right for each other, eventually separating. Yet, the emotions and memories they shared live on, the final line revealing the innate connection between the past lovers.
You can read the full poem here.
You Know All This is written in quatrains across five stanzas. There is a consistent ABAB rhyme scheme throughout the poem. Koch may utilize this continual rhyme to create a sense of time passing across the poem, the steady rhythm reflecting the onward march of time. Similarly, the rhyme scheme, in continual pairs, could reflect the state of Koch’s relationship, the innate connection between him and his lover being suggested by the coupled rhymes.
You Know All This Analysis
The first, violent year
Hung in me like a coat.
The first line of the poem is interrupted by a caesura, ‘The first, violent’, having a metrical pause before ‘violent’. Perhaps Koch is suggesting that his first year did not run smoothly in this new location, unable to understand the city he has moved in to. The suggestion of a negative experience is then furthered by the use of ‘violent’, the adjective we encounter framing this initial year as something difficult and uncomfortable.
Yet, the year, as well as the others, passes quickly, the use of enjambment from the first to the second line allowing the poem to quickly flow. In line with this sense of time moving across the poem is the metaphor of ‘swim or float’, Koch suggesting that he is metaphorically drowning in this new city. He doesn’t understand the customs or the way of life, having trouble adapting and thrust into the ‘dark’, representing his pessimistic stance on the city.
‘Fear’ encapsulates Koch within this first year, the poet using the metaphor of ‘hung on me like a coat’ to represent this complete envelopment in ‘dark[ness]’ and ‘fear’.
The second year it rained
But I whistled Scheherazade.
The second stanza of You Know All This moves into Koch’s ‘second year’ in the city. His pessimism continues, the city being enveloped by a permanent state of ‘rain’. Not only this depressing weather, but Koch further presents the rain as ‘strict and odd’, the unsettling downpour depicting the city with a depressing atmosphere. The use of pathetic fallacy is pertinent at this stage in the poem, Koch realizing his pessimism through the depictions of rainfall.
The embrace of ‘fear’ still ‘remained’ in his life, yet there is a slight element of light. Indeed, Koch depicts himself as ‘whist[ling]’ the ‘Scheherazade’. The verb ‘whistled’ taps into the semantics of joy, the poet finally finding an element of positivity by his second year in the unfamiliar city.
Stanza Three and Four
The summer of the third
Inflecting you, my dear.
It is within these stanzas of You Know All This that the poem begins to change. Koch focuses on ‘summer’, a season with connotations of sun and happiness, moving away from the depressive images of the first two stanzas. It is within this ‘third’ year that Koch finds his lover. They ‘struck me like a match’, the line becoming polysemous as the poem continues. On one hand, the use of ‘match’ relates to finding a partner, one person being ‘a match’ for the other. Yet, as Koch moves into the fourth stanza, beginning with ‘flaming’, ‘match’ then takes on the connotation of fire, a match burning.
Their relationship is depicted through this metaphor, ‘flaming’ brightly but moving down the path to burning out. The focus on ‘held you for a year’ suggests that their relationship could only last a single year. The fact the holding, ‘I held’, is from Koch’s perspective perhaps suggests that it was his love that left him, Koch no longer able to keep their relationship together.
Their leaving the poet was not something uncalled for, Koch himself depicting their relationship through the semantics of sickness, ‘infecting you’. Koch suggests that he was a negative influence within their relationship, the toxicity evident in the lexical choice of ‘infecting’ furthering this idea.
My hands, sonambular,
We touch each other now.
Initially, You Know All This focuses negative semantics and descriptions towards the city that Koch has moved into. Yet, within this stanza, Koch begins to turn these descriptions on himself. The ‘somnambular’ quality to his lifestyle, creates an incredibly boring depiction of his own personality, the sleepwalker man just plodding through life. The fact that the poet himself assigns a level of boredom to his own life directly contrasts with the expressive ‘flaming’ imagery of their early relationship. It seems that while it burned brightly, it has since burnt out.
Again, the suggestion that Koch was the one to have ‘kept’ the relationship together is insinuated, the poet writing that ‘My hands… have kept you’. It does not seem like a mutually beneficial relationship, Koch wanting to stay while his lover wants to leave.
Even though they have now separated, Koch finishes the poem by focusing on how they still ‘touch each other now’, the memories that were created between them suggesting that elements of their relationship live on. They are in different locations, ‘no matter where you are’, but yet something connects the two. The urgency of finishing the poem on ‘now’ furthers the power of memory, the past forever connecting the now separated individuals.