‘Life Goes On’ by Michael C. Blumenthal explores the slow meandering quality of life. Blumenthal seemingly is writing to himself, knowing the intricacies of the second person ‘you’ within the poem. The poem explores the poet’s own habits in writing poetry, letters, even psychological theories. It presents the quiet pace of the poet’s life, moving through life in a slow meander.
Beginning with writing poetry and ending with learning abut ‘love’, ‘language’, and ‘light on the table’, ‘Life Goes On’ by Michael C. Blumenthal explores a man’s life. Blumenthal tells the reader how he (written in the second person of ‘you’) writes poems for women, corresponds with a few before realizing they disagree with him about music and art. Living a solitary life, Blumenthal discusses his developing theories about human personality, ‘Jungian typology’. Although no social development seems to come from anything Blumenthal has done, he consoles himself that at least he is teaching himself ‘something’ while doing so. The poem is a slow meander through life, with Blumenthal exploring the smaller details of the everyday.
You can read the full poem here.
Blumenthal writes ‘Life Goes On’ in five stanzas, each measuring a different amount of lines than the preceding. The first and third stanzas are 6 lines long. The second is seven lines long. The fourth is four lines long. The final measures only one line. This final line, grammatically separated from the rest of the poem, could reflect the individual isolation Blumenthal feels, not having established any human connection within the poem. The changing stanza length could also symbolize Blumenthal’s changing opinion of things as his life progresses, learning more about how the world works and the things that fill it. Most of ‘Life Goes On’ is enjambed, allowing for the meter to flow freely along the lines, creating an almost dreamlike quality to the poem. This could also be a reflection of the title, with the lines going on, much like life does.
Analysis of Life Goes On
Over the dulling years, you write
poems for hundreds of women-
off the edge of a table. Those
survive best, the ones about light.
The poem begins with an exploration of how time passes continuously, ‘Over the dulling years’, the sense of motion in ‘over’ reflecting the aging of the poet. The adjective ‘dulling’ instantly creates a tone of melancholy within ‘Life Goes On’, with Blumenthal examining life from a fairly pessimistic standpoint. The use of caesura following ‘dulling years’ creates a slight metrical pause, the slowed meter of the line reflecting the downbeat poet’s perspective on life. This is furthered by the end stop on the second line, the long break suggested by the use of a hyphen symbolizing the slow, but consistent, nature of life. The metrical pause could also be emphasizing the fact that he has written ‘hundreds’ of poems for women, with the few responses being a glimpse into Blumenthal’s social workings.
The use of enjambment between the first and second lines speed up the meter of the poem, the swift movement from one line to the next perhaps reflecting the passing of Blumenthal’s life before his eyes.
The abstract nature of poetry is explored in the first stanza. Out of the poems that Blumenthal writes, some are ‘about love, the impossibility of love’ and some about ‘the way light bounces off the table’. Blumenthal suggests that it is these stranger poems, those which deal with light, rather than over-saturated love poetry, that ‘survive best’. It is interesting that Blumenthal uses the word ‘survive’ when discussing his poetry. This inherently links to the state of being alive, poetry and life fussed together through this insinuation.
Very few write back. It’s kind of
like a long correspondence with an
to sleep to his music, how the dance of your toungue
to his nocturnes seems insincere.
Only ‘very few’ of the women Blumenthal writes poetry to ‘write back’. Blumenthal emphasizes his disappointment at this by using a caesura, which disrupts the meter and highlights this short fact. The poet writes that any response elicits ‘ecstasy’ in his, furthering the suggestion that he is quite a lonely person.
It could go on like this forever.
You develop theories about Jungian typology
as if it mattered, reflect upon
the multiple meanings of silence
In the third stanza, Blumenthal further creates a sense of the ongoing nature of life, ‘it could go on like this forever’, the poet constantly continuing in a state of loneliness.
Blumenthal begins to spend time just thinking, ruminating on music and psychology. He ‘develop[s] theories about Jungian typology’, a human personality test that places everyone into one of 16 personality types. By focusing on this, Blumenthal explores the similarity of people, but also suggests that simplicity of life, considering everyone who has ever lived can be reduced to one of sixteen types of people.
In his loneliness, with nothing else to focus on, Blumenthal begins ‘looking at furniture as if it matted’, doing anything to fill the seemingly endless time. When looking at furniture, he obviously gets no response, so ‘reflect[s] upon the multiple meanings of silence’. The lack of other people, and therefore the lack of sound, is a large aspect of this poem, Blumenthal examining his own silent life.
Stanza Four and Five
There’s one consolation-
uou know all this must be teaching you something
About the light on the table
The fourth stanza tries to justify Blumenthal’s lonely life, finding ‘one consolation’. The end stop, in the form of a hyphen, following the line creates a metrical pause, Blumenthal almost seemingly searching for something that could act as a ‘consolation’.
In his lonely life, one thing that is worth the silence is ‘teaching’, Blumenthal having learned much from his ‘hundred’ poems written to women. He learned ‘About love. About Language’, and finally ‘About the light on the table’. The grammatical separation of the final line reflects Blumenthal’s earlier sentiment, that ‘those survive best, the ones about light’, with this knowledge being emphasized as more important than ‘love’ and ‘language’.
Blumenthal uses this poem to slowly explore the meaning of a life lived alone. It is equal parts insightful and lonely, with the poet realizing that even in moments of melancholy, there is something to be learned and achieved from even the direst circumstances. Although sorrowful, the poem ends on this note of learning – showing that his life has been worth it. ‘Life Goes On’ and on, and we are able to fill it however we please.