Hour by Reginald Gibbons explores one sleepless hour of the poet’s life. After breaking up with someone, he lies away remembering their relationship. The dark seems like an abyss for the poet, sucking his memories from his mind. Gibbons discusses the fleeting nature of relationships and the sadness that can follow. This poem melancholically discusses breakups.
Summary of Hour
The poet reflects over what he has lost, thinking of past relationships in the dark. There is a great sense of loss, Gibbons feeling his memories fade away. The relationship is described as fleeting, nothing more than a ‘moment pulse’ in his life. The world around the poet continues, a ‘snowplow’ clearing the roads for tomorrow’s activities. It seems that Gibbons cannot come to terms with his break up, focusing again and again on his memories. The melancholic backdrop of ‘night’ reflects his somber mood, the poet mourning what he has lost.
You can read the full poem here.
Form and Structure
Reginald Gibbons writes Hour as one continuous stanza. The poet writes in free-verse, allowing his thoughts to scatter across the page. This structure allows the poet to express their emotions freely, not bound by the restraint of classical forms.
Hour is 39 lines long, each line measuring a maximum of four words. The short line structure creates a sense of extending the poem onward. Although the poem is not actually very long, it seems much longer than it is. This could reflect the slow passing of this Hour in Gibbons’ life, the poem stretching on as a mirror for time. This sad moment stretches on forever, Gibbons slowly watching the world go by.
Themes in Hour
Gibbons discusses breakups and relationships within Hour. This is the core of the poem, being the cause of his sleeplessness. The use of pronoun within the poem, ‘our past’, signals that he is mourning a break-up. Gibbons has recently come out of a relationship, unable to sleep now he is thinking about the past. The poem is melancholic, a tragic depiction of a breakup and the sadness that comes with that.
Yet, more subtly, Gibbons also discusses the possibility of continuation. Indeed, although currently upset, the poet ambiguously suggests that things will continue on. The reference to the ‘snowplow’ at the end of the poem could be seen as a positive symbol. A snowplow clears the roads, perhaps reflecting the process of forgetting the pain that the breakup caused Gibbons. Moreover, the symbol could also be seen as reflecting the fact that things have to go on. No matter how melancholic Gibbons feels, he knows that this will not last forever. While the poem is deeply tragic, there is a little element of light.
One of the key techniques that Gibbons uses in constructing Hour is enjambment. The short line structure, combined with enjambment, quickens the meter of the poem. Gibbons races through the poem, this accelerated structure reflecting his own quickened thoughts. Lying awake in the dark, Gibbons’ thoughts race, casting over his past relationship. The use of enjambment allows lines to flow together, reflecting the intangibility of memory.
Another technique that Gibbons employs is repetition. In using repetition, in an already short poem, Gibbons places emphasis on certain phrases. For example, ‘being,/over love’ is repeated twice. This signals the importance of the phrase, showing Gibbons’ shocked reaction to his breakup. Moreover, the cyclic narrative could also reflect the undulating mind of Gibbons. He is not totally ready to move on from this pain, reflected through his tendency towards repetition.
Hour begins with Gibbons’ current state, ‘Sleepless’. The word stretches out on the page, being the only word on the first line. The sibilant /s/ across this word creates a soft sound, reflecting the peaceful nature of the night. By following the word with enjambement, Gibbons extends this sleepy flow, moving without pause to the following line.
Gibbons then introduces the first clue that the poem will be melancholic. The use of ‘dark’ instantly draws upon unsettling connotations, the darkness reflecting Gibbons’ depressive state. This is furthered by the coupling with the adjective ‘cold’, the night becoming hostile and unappealing. The opening description of the situation allows the tone to form, the ‘cold dark’ reflecting – almost with an essence of pathetic fallacy – Gibbons’ emotions.
The splitting of ‘be-/fore’ into two lines can be understood as a reflection of their relationship. Gibbons has gone through a breakup, the word being literary split in half. On one line ‘be’, represents Gibbons himself, the to be verb reflecting his persona. This is then split grammatically by a harsh hyphen, truncating the word into two lines. This is then repeated with ‘be-/comes’, another word split in two. The division of language is emblematic of Gibbons’ breakup, losing his other half.
abyss into(…)being over
The focus on the ‘abyss’ furthers the depressive tone of the poem. Not only is there total darkness, but this ‘dark’ has transformed into an unending ‘abyss’. This could reflect Gibbons’ current emotional state, the dark ‘abyss’ being linked to depression. Into this hole ‘memories have/fallen’, Gibbons forgetting the past. Considering he has been through a breakup, all he now has left is memories of that relationship. Seeing his memories fall away from him is melancholic, losing the relationship all over again.
The use of pronoun within ‘our past’ signals that this poem is discussing relationships. Gibbons suggests that he was so close with his ex-lover that they shared one ‘past’. Both combined under the plural possessive pronoun, ‘our’. He now needs to separate himself from the perception of reality that he used to have. Gibbons must learn to define himself simply through ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ and ‘our’.
The continual repetition of the phrase ‘an ache’ and ‘being over’ display his cyclic mindset. Gibbons keeps going back over past memories, missing his relationship. To reflect this, Gibbons’ poetry makes repetitive circles, moving over the same points again and again.
love. Like(…)this room.
The final third of the poem moves slightly away from the depressive state. Although still melancholic, Gibbons begins to focus inward. He seeings ‘flashing/lights’ from outside his window. This is the first reference to light, something penetrating the ‘abyss’ he was in. This could be understood as a symbol of hope, reality returning with the daytime.
These lights are a ‘midnight snowplow’ clearing the streets. The ‘pulse’ of light is but a ‘moment’, but it is enough to impact Gibbons. The location that he is inside, ‘this room’ is momentarily lit up. Although ambiguous, the appearance of light could symbolize the moment in which the poet realizes he is ready to continue with his life. His depressive state is altered, the poet being able to escape introspection and look onward to the future.
Audre Lorde also explores breakups in Movement Song. However, while Hour is melancholically wallowing, Lorde’s poem has more of a forward direction. Lorde understands that although breakups can be hard, one has to move onward. From this forward momentum, fantastic things can happen.
A poem that deals with the same ideas as Gibbons but in an alternative manner is Failing and Flying by Jack Gilbert. Gilbert concludes that relationships are not failures just because they end. As a society, we see breakups and divorces as failures. Yet, those people in the relationship still had experienced together. That must also be remembered. The end does not qualify for the journey. Gilbert focuses more on a positive appreciation of breakups, while Gibbons is melancholic.