Ever by Meghan O’Rourke mourns someone lost, with O’Rourke trying to define ’never’ in order to come to terms with never seeing them again. The poem uses linguistics to prove the odd circularity of the word, relying on sound and repetition to make its points. O’Rourke is seemingly trying to distance herself from the truth, not wanting to acknowledge her loss.
Ever by Meghan O’Rourke goes in linguistic circles. It is at once a poem about ‘forever’, ‘never’, ‘nothing’, and ‘ever’. O’Rourke spins an elaborate linguistic game in order to take the attention away from her mourning process, with only slight moments of clarity shining through. It relies on the similar sounds of these words, the repetition of letters and parts of words arising throughout the poem and giving it a sing-song chime. The poet never really decides what never means, the circle continuing and O’Rourke not coming to terms with the death. By not defining ideas like ‘forever’, O’Rourke subconsciously avoids admitting to herself that she won’t see her loved one again.
You can read the full poem here.
The poem is divided into 14 lines but without a rhyme scheme. Yet, just as there is no rhyme scheme, this does not mean there is no rhythm, with the poem actually having a continual beat that runs throughout. How O’Rourke achieves this is through the repetition of sounds, the echoing beat appearing throughout Ever.
One technique O’Rourke uses when writing Ever, is the repetition of sounds. This arrises in ‘ever’, ‘thin’, ‘gu’, ‘un’, and lots of other sounds that constantly come up in the poem. Because of the repetition of sounds, consonance and assonance are plentiful within Ever, the constant reusing of words and sounds marking the poem as playful. This is a cover for the theme at the heart of this poem, O’Rourke using comedy and confusion as a diversion to remove focus from her process of mourning.
O’Rourke also uses a circling pattern of language, with words that are close homophones of other words appearing to give a mock repetition. This not only extends the ideas stated in the paragraph above, but also means that the poem continues in a circling narrative pattern. Indeed, O’Rourke never concludes what ‘Ever’ is, ’never’ actually settling on a clear message. In doing this, the poem itself exemplifies this cyclic narrative, O’Rourke driving Ever in linguistic circles in order to prove the complexity of terms like ‘forever’ and ‘nothing’ – not wanting to define the period in which she will never see this person again.
Analysis of Ever
Even now I can’t grasp “nothing” or “never.”
because nothing’s not a thing.
The poem beings with the title word ‘Ever’ being closely repeated in ‘Even’. This begins a style that is continued throughout the poem, with O’Rourke ensuring that the poem must be read closely in order to not confuse very similar homophones. The decision to start with ‘Even now’, suggests that O’Rourke has been considering the answer to this problem for quite some time, beginning the poem in a position that insinuates the thought process is much longer than just these 14 lines.
The choice of verb in ‘grasp’ suggests an impossibility, the ease of slipping out of one’s ‘grasp’ reflecting the escaping meaning of the words O’Rourke is trying to define. Indeed, she is trying to wrestle with terms like ‘nothing’ and ‘never’, things that are abstract and therefore cannot quite be ‘grasped’. This works on more than one level, both not being able to literally ‘grasp’ something abstract, and also not understanding something being depicted as out of one’s ‘grasp’.
The repetition of the ’n’ sound carried across ‘nothing’ and ‘never’ begins the alliteration within Ever, this being the first case of many. The second example of this comes directly in the second line, ‘unholdable, unglobable’ being close homophones, with the similar beginning ‘un’ and end ‘dable’ giving the words a close pronunciation. Indeed, there is only a very slight difference between these two words, the ‘hol’ being changed to ‘glo’, only a tiny deviation. This is one of the first markings of O’Rourke’s linguistic games.
The repetition of ‘never’ is also noted heavily within these first five lines, O’Rourke ensuring that the reader is tongue-tied as she cycles through these similar words. The double use of a question mark, ‘Never? Never ever again to see you?’ Stands as the first moment of clarity within the poem. The shock and disbelief in the double question mark notes an odd tone of uncertainty from O’Rourke. She does not want to believe that she will never see her loved one again.
I know death is absolute, forever,
the guillotine—gutting—never to which we never say goodbye.
Another moment of clarity is written on the sixth line, ‘I know death is absolute forever’. The poet understands that death is forever, and that now her loved one has died she will never be able to see them. So instead of coming to terms with this, she creates a complex linguistic system that diverts attention from this reality, instead of trying to define impossibly abstract concepts like ‘nothing’.
The harsh use of caesura, ‘guillotine-gutting-never’ is another moment of lucidity that removes the reader from the web of linguistic complexity that O’Rourke is weaving. These are some of the saddest lines in the poem, O’Rourke understanding that death is ‘forever’, and she must ‘say goodbye’.
But even as I think “forever” it goes “ever”
and “ever” and “ever.” Ever after.
Will I ever really get never?
You’re gone. Nothing, never—ever.
The enjambment after ‘ever / and ever and ever’, combined with the repetition of ‘ever’ gives the poem a sense of continuing endlessly. This enormous thought of continual progression is what O’Rourke is wrestling with, not wanting to believe that this huge space of time is what now separates her from her loved one.
The sad reality of ‘you’re not nothing. But neither are you something’ depicts the odd nature of death. They are not one thing, nor another, they are simply nothing. This strange concept is what O’Rourke is trying to work around, not wanting to admit her loss.
O’Rourke asks herself if she ‘will I ever really get never?’, the use of the question mark again making a moment of lucidity within the poem. This is followed by one of the shortest and most blunt moments in the poem, the final line beginning ‘You’re gone’. The harsh caesura makes abundantly clear the shock of the statement, O’Rourke trying to come to terms with death and being separated from her love one. It is an incredibly tragic moment within the poem, O’Rourke finally acknowledging the death. Yet, even as she does so, she doesn’t actually say something like dead, she uses a euphemism of ‘gone’, accepting, but not accepting the death at the same time.
The final few words of the poem continue in this strange state of accepting, while also not accepting the death. ‘Nothing, never – ever’, the repetition of similar-sounding words compounding the complexity of grief. O’Rourke simultaneously mourns, and denies the non-existence of her loved one. Grief is incredibly complex, with O’Rourke showing how hard it is to pin down this emotion.