‘Sad and Alone’ by Maurice Manning is a poem that explores different memories, all revealing the loneliness of the poet. He is alone in all his memories and is seemingly sitting by himself in the present moment. The poem focuses on isolation, past, and present.
‘Sad and Alone’ by Maurice Manning begins with the poet delving into his memories, looking back over his life into moments which he has often revisited. He first discusses a ‘waking dream’ in which he saw a woman, and sprinkled her ‘burial mound’, the ground around her, with ‘grass’. The second memory he explores is while he was much younger. As a boy, he is sat in a house that has a leaky roof. He is enjoying the sound of a banjo burning on the fire as water drips into buckets around him. It is a sound that he loves, but one that brings back sad memories. The poet then returns to the present, he is sitting underneath a ‘tree’ and laughing at the first memory. Manning writes an incredibly tragic poem, the words dripping with loneliness and sorrow, as equally moving and beautiful.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Sad and Alone’ by Maurice Manning is split into 16 stanzas of two lines each, with a total of 32 lines within the poem. The togetherness implied by the couplet form creates a stalk contrast against the subject matter, the closeness of the lines, and the isolation the poet experiences contrasted against each other. Moreover, the space between each stanza could be understood as a representation of this isolation, each stanza another person separated from the rest.
The technique which Manning relies on most when writing the poem is imagery. He creates the atmosphere of the poem by focusing on these images. Particularly within the second memory, the focus on both sound and sight creates an immersive experience, with the poet projecting the scene through the words and images he uses.
Analysis of Sad and Alone
Well, this is nothing new, nothingto rattle the rafters in the noggin,
The first line of the poem uses caesura to ensure the rhythm of ‘Sad and Alone’ begins in a stuttered way. It is almost as if the present is something that the poet does not like to settle on and read, his poetry became much more fluid as he delves into memory. The caesuras could also be a way of injecting a sense of Manning’s voice into the poem, with the colloquial nature of this interrupted first line replicating a speech pattern if spoken out loud – the poet is seemingly talking to himself. This aligns with the sense of loneliness which begins to develop throughout ‘Sad and Alone’, the poet is indeed ‘alone’.
Manning suggests that delving back into these memories is ‘nothing new’, ‘nothing’ that will confuse or need much thinking, ‘rattle the rafters in the noggin’. He has thought of this memory many times, probably because he finds it funny, as we discover in the final stanza.
Stanza Two – Five
this moment of rememberingand its kissing cousin the waking dream.(…)I’m sprinkling her burial moundswith grass. This is the kind of work
He names his memory a ‘waking dream’, projecting himself into the memory through a ‘vision’ he has in the present ‘moment of remembering’. Although he questions himself, ‘I wonder if I’ll remember it?’, it is obvious from his earlier statements and the rest of ‘Sad and Alone’ that he will, and does.
His vision is of a ‘woman / reclining underneath a tree’. This image is strange to decipher, with the following information ‘sprinkling her burial mounds with grass’, perhaps suggesting that the woman might actually be dead. The use of ‘reclining’ suggests a limpness, which could further infer this idea that she is dead, Manning coming across the body. The woman is dead also suggests that Manning is alone, reflecting the continual theme of the poem – the poet’s loneliness.
Alternatively, you could argue that the woman is alive and that she is sitting on a ‘burial mound’ that she has claimed as her own. This idea that he constantly comes back to this memory would indicate it was a moment in which he did not feel alone, with his love of this moment of community something he returns to over and over.
I like. It lets me remember, and soI do. I remember the time I laid
This stanza marks the transition from one memory to the next, this being the middle point of ‘Sad and Alone’. The enjambment from the fifth stanza to the sixth, and then the sixth to the seventh presents a sense of cohesion between these memories. Although separate moments, they blur together in the poet’s mind, him moving from one to another seamlessly.
Stanza Seven, Eight & Nine
my homemade banjo in the fireand let it burn. There was nothing else(…)But the burst of heat was over soon,and once the little roar was done,
This second memory is more tragic, further developing the theme of loneliness within ‘Sad and Alone’. The first thing we are introduced to is the ‘banjo’, the fact that it is ‘homemade’ making it something sentimental and important. Yet, to keep warm, indeed ‘there was nothing else to burn’, the poet decides to ‘let it burn’, placing the ‘homemade banjo in the fire’. This is the first element of tragedy within ‘Sad and Alone’, the loss of the personal object due to personal necessity a melancholy note to begin this second memory.
The poet is alone in a house and trying to keep warm at any cost. Even the ’cigar box’ has been burnt at this point, the poet working his way through anything which will keep the fire going and therefore keep himself warm. The light associated with ‘the flames’ gives another sense to the poem, the cold and flickering atmosphere reflecting the sad mood of the poet.
Yet, even after burning something sentimentally important to him, the ‘banjo’ only gave out a little ‘burst of heat’. The suggestion of ‘burst’ is that it lasted only a short amount of time. This is further insinuated by the ‘little roar’. Although warm, ‘roar’, it was only a temporary burning and quickly died out, leaving him cold again and with no ‘homemade banjo’.
Stanzas Ten, Eleven & Twelve
I could hear the raindrops plopping upthe buckets and kettles, scattered out(…)and left to listen to that old music.I liked it. I’ve liked it ever since.
These stanzas focus on the rest of the young Manning’s surroundings. He is in a room as a young boy, ‘alone’. He is listening to the sound of ‘raindrops plotting’ into ‘buckets and kettles’ which are ‘scattered’ around the room. The roof is leaking, the fire is going out and the boy is completely alone. The poet creates a particularly tragic image using this mixed sensory imagery. This is furthered by the use of ‘night’, the dark surroundings feeding into the poet’s sense of separation. Perhaps what makes these stanzas most sad is the fact that it seems normal to the ‘little boy’.
The caesura before ‘alone’ places emphasis on this word. The youth connoted by ‘boy’ combined with this giving the stanza a certain sense of tragedy. The young poet is completely isolated, ‘alone’ and without anyone to rely on at his young age. This is something that feels natural to the poet, the sound of water dropping into pots actually being an ‘old music’ that he has ‘liked’ ‘ever since’.
Stanzas Thirteen – Sixteen
I loved the helpless people I loved.That’s what a little boy will do,(…)some afternoon beneath a tree.Burial mounds—that’s hilarious.
The end of ‘Sad and Alone’ reflects on the poet’s life and these memories he is experiencing again. The standalone statement ‘I loved the helpless people I loved’ touches upon the tragedy of the poet’s life. All those he loved being ‘helpless’ like him. Yet, this could also be a source of optimism within the poem. Although the circumstances are dark, the boy finds ways to love and be happy.
However, as the boy grows up, the ‘grown man’ poet turns all the happiness he has ‘to sadness’, focusing on Manning’s current loneliness. It will ‘soak his heart’, the third person distancing from the poet’s own self furthering the sense of disconnection with other people. This loneliness will not be fixed until he ‘wrings’ out his ‘soaked’ heart, forgetting the tragic past, and instead he ‘dreams about another kind of love’.
The poet ends on a comic note, ‘that’s hilarious’, with Mannings finding elements of joy, perhaps on the right path towards that other ‘kind of love’ which will make him truly happy.