Quietly by Kenneth Rexroth focuses on a moment of complete tranquillity, two lovers lying in bed and letting the world pass them by. The titular word of the poem echoes throughout Quietly, reaffirming the gentle atmosphere each repetition.
Kenneth Rexroth lays in the darkness of a bedroom with his lover, listening to the world Quietly going on without them. He focuses on ‘calm music’ playing in the background while the sun goes down and drifts out ‘over the Pacific’. They seem to not even be thinking, just laying there silently and enjoying each other’s company. The lovers are so still that Rexroth can even feel his lover’s heartbeat. Rexroth mentions ‘The calm music of Boccherini’ within the poem, with Boccherini’s style reflecting the atmosphere which the poem builds, his music being described as ‘charm, lightness, and optimism’. The slow music you can imagine in the background of the poem goes hand in hand with the serene atmosphere Rexroth builds, the two forms of art blending together beautifully.
Rexroth frames Quietly into 14 lines, echoing the sonnet form. Although not abiding by a stereotypical rhyme scheme of a sonnet, even just referencing the line length infuses the poem with a strong sense of love. Drawing upon this archetypical form of love, Rexroth writes a beautifully calming poem about the ‘quiet’ moments of stillness in a relationship.
You can read the full poem here.
One major technique that Rexroth uses when writing Quietly is the use of repetition. Beginning with the title and continuing throughout the rest of the poem, Quietly enables an atmosphere of calm to descend upon the poem. The reiteration of this word furthering the sense of peace each time it is mentioned.
Another technique that Rexroth uses throughout the poem is a caesura. By using caesura throughout Quietly, the poet slows the metrical pacing of the poem, allowing for even the poetic structure to exude a sense of slow contentedness. The poem is deliberately slow, subtle, and calming, the content and structure both reflecting these ideas.
A third technique that is used within Quietly is the idea that Rexroth presents their status of being connected through the use of pronouns. Indeed, he refers to the collective ‘us’ or ‘our’ throughout the poem, connecting the lovers through the first person plural ‘us’.
The poem beings with the body position of ‘Lying’, the comfortable posture instantly suggesting a state of being content. The lovers are used to each other, lying together in bed, the defenceless posture suggesting that they have both let their guards down and are totally comfortable with each other.
The close collocation of ‘Quietly’ and ‘you’ set the scene of the poem, the blissful state of being together in the silent room echoing throughout the lines. The use of an end stop affirms the presence of ‘you’, Rexroth taking a moment to emphasize his lover. They are at this moment together, enjoying everything it is as a pair.
Rexroth focuses on the body, semantics related to this running throughout the poem: ‘cheek’, ‘thighs’, ‘brains’, ‘hearts’. The connection across these body parts, the two lovers blending together, ‘My cheek against your firm, quiet thighs’, furthers the sense of connection between them. They are happy together, closely ‘Lying’ in bed while the world washes over them.
As the ‘sun leaves’ and ‘goes / out over the Pacific’, Rexroth uses enjambment to allow the movement of the sun to be reflected through the structure of the poem. The seamless and uninterrupted flow of sunset is a beautiful image, which is furthered by the grammatical freedom that is awarded to ‘the sun’. The huge expanse of the ‘Pacific’ is directly contrasted to the tiny parts of the body, ‘cheek’ and ‘thighs’ made into comforting images of human connection against the expanse of the sea.
The anaphora of ‘so quiet’ on the seventh, eighth, and ninth lines compound the sense of subtle happiness here. Nothing is happening in the poem, only the lovers dosing in a still scene. But this idea that everything is ‘So quiet’, the affirming use of the adjective ‘so’ furthering the stillness of the atmosphere. The almost complete absence of sound is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the poem – quietness and a certain serenity being connected here.
The ‘Brains’ of the two lovers are connected, just like the lovers themselves. Throughout the poem, Rexroth refers to the two lovers as an ‘us’, ‘our bodies’ being presented as two parts of one whole. This sense of complete togetherness is also present in the ‘Brain’, the mental connection apparently in ‘their shells’ furthering the love they hold for each other. The connected ‘brains’ are ‘dormant’, another image of the still nature of the scene being placed here.
Even right down to their ‘hearts’ there is a sense of everything being ‘slow, quiet, reliable’. The use of ‘heats’ relates to archetypical ideas of romantic poetry, with the heart almost always being a metaphor for love. The use of caesura in this sentence furthers the calmness it exudes. All three words, ‘slow, quiet, reliable’ add to the atmosphere of tranquillity, with the slow meter implied by caesura completing the sense of serenity.
The final line emphasizes the complete tranquillity they feel. The use of caesura after ‘my cheek.’ then allows for ‘Quiet.’ to be grammatically isolated from the rest of the poem. Alike the title, the last word of the poem returns to this lack of sound. The final and most important image both syntactically and grammatically stressed, resounds on ‘quietly’. Rexroth frames a beautiful moment of quiet connection, showing the beauty of love through the tender moment of nothingness. The final line also contains 10 syllables, against the more common 9 of the poem, the extra syllable extending the sense of ‘quiet[ness] and slowness the poem is based so heavily upon.