‘A Cozy Apologia’ by Rita Dove is a three-stanza work that addresses a specific relationship in which the narrator is involved. The rhyme scheme is back-to-backing rhymes (AABB…) for the first stanza, but the scheme does not continue in a perfect pattern throughout the other stanzas. Rather, it veers and becomes jumbled, and that jumble is a representation of the relationship that is being discussed. To the narrator, the relationship is not without flaw, but it is useful enough to remain in. That usefulness is key in the narrator’s wants and the poem’s meaning, which is something that through a series of reflections and admissions, we—and perhaps the narrator as well — discover. In a relationship, we learn, it is that usefulness that keeps the narrator present.
A Cozy Apologia Analysis
I could pick anything and think of you—
One eye smiling, the other firm upon the enemy.
This particular stanza of ‘A Cozy Apologia’, which can be read in full here, as was previously mentioned, embraces a definite rhyme scheme where every two lines rhyme with one another. In this detail, it sets the scene for something reliable and perfect, and given that a relationship is the topic of the work, the reader might conclude by that basic idea that the relationship is a solid and stable one. A deeper inspection into what is being said, however, provides evidence to the contrary to that idea.
Without question, the ending visual of the presumed rescuer arriving with “chain mail glinting” and “astride a dappled mare” sparks a chivalrous vision, but the lines leading up to that image are more obsessed than romantic. This detail is evident in the very first line in that the narrator “could pick anything and think of” this man. There is nothing intrinsically romantic in regard to some of the listed things that create these ponderings, such as the “lamp.” If anything brings the narrator’s thoughts to one person, what could be taken as romantic could in reality be a declaration that the narrator is obsessed rather than in love.
Worse, some of the things that are mentioned as reminding the narrator of the man from the relationship can have a morose connotation rather than a happy one—like “the wind-still rain…[and] the glossy blue [the narrator’s] pen exudes.” Not only then are we seeing hints that this relationship is not as solid as the rhyme scheme is, but we are also encountering clues that it is unhappy and unhealthy. Why else would a sad color or dreary weather remind the narrator of it?
Further evidence to this idea resides in the narrator’s declaration that, although this man shows up on a horse to “set [her] free,” the certainty of this happening is “sure as shooting arrows to the heart.” Other than the pedestrian notion of this representing Cupid’s arrow, there is simply little to no way to label this as a good description of anything. An arrow shot so callously kills, not saves, which shows a contradiction in what the narrator has claimed. Perhaps then there is a trade-off happening, that the rescuer does help, but the relationship also hurts in some way.
This post-postmodern age is all business: compact disks
Sweet with a dark and hollow center. Floyd’s
The rhyme scheme persists in this stanza, only to be abandoned in line 5, which is halfway through. From there, to claim any line rhymes with its neighboring one would be a stretch, at best, and most resemblance of the structure is gone by the time the stanza concludes. This idea is apparent in the fact that it ends during a sentence, and the reader must continue to the third stanza to figure out what Floyd is doing. There is a feeling of disarray with that lack of organization, but there is also a sense of abandonment since rhyme schemes, structure, and even a sentence are left wanting within these lines.
The topic of this second stanza is also different in regard to what came in the first stanza. This one is not about the specific relationship the narrator is in, but is instead an examination of the world in general with a hint of criticism for what seems to be labeled as immature love. Specifically of those relationships, the narrator says this: “awkward reminiscences/Of teenage crushes on worthless boys/Whose only talent was to kiss you senseless.” The irony is that the narrator is labeling these relationships as ones that do not merit exploration, but she is currently existing in one that the previous stanza linked to sad colors and weather, as well as fatally sent arrows. In that regard, there seems to be a contradiction, whether it is purposeful or not, in that the narrator is criticizing something as potentially poor as what she has.
As for the rest of the stanza of ‘A Cozy Apologia’, it almost feels like the narrator goes off topic when she references things like “compact disks,” but the possibility exists that she is trying to give the reader a strong grasp on the details she sees as mundane, trivial, or harsh—as with the weather detail. If that is the case, she is likely building evidence about why she would need her current relationship to give her some kind of meaning or intrigue in her life.
No matter the reasoning, she abandons that tactic as well to discuss the “boys” with “sissy names,” and it seems that beyond her dislike of their names, she is again returning to the idea that they are useless. How sturdy and strong could something that was “thin as licorice and as chewy,/Sweet with a dark and hollow center” be? That description suggests quite the option since something that is too “thin” could be seen as frail, and calling them “chewy” could lead to the idea that she has—as the saying goes—chewed them up and spit them out. Once she has done so, she is past their “sweet” exterior that was useful to her and at the “hollow center” that has nothing she can use. That detail, it seems, is the underlying problem with those older relationships with the new one. The “boys” from the earlier ones had little she found useful, and that quality is what she is interested in.
Cussing up a storm. You’re bunkered in your
I fill this stolen time with you.
This stanza, again, ignores the stanza-one rhyme scheme, and it only reembraces it at line 5. From there though, it still is not perfect. Specifically, “news” with “do” do not offer perfect rhymes, and neither do “blues” and “you.” To create a perfect rhyme scheme in those last four lines, the rhyme scheme would have to completely change into another line rhyming—“news” with “blues” and “do” with “you.” Once more, there is an abandonment in that strategy since the established rhyme scheme of stanza one is but a memory at this point.
What does this mean in regard to the meaning of the poem? It could easily be interpreted that the narrator realizes during the second stanza that her logic is faulty in regard to criticizing earlier relationships as immature when her current one is not exactly upstanding. Perhaps as well, she could have unveiled her own tendency to only want to be in relationships with men who are useful to her, and the reflection was uncomfortable enough to shake her from her thoughts and process—thus jumbling the rhyme scheme. Whatever the reason, this change is worth noting.
The idea that she has realized her tendency toward usefulness is a very strong possibility that can be supported through the text of the stanza. For instance, she refers to the situation as “embarrassing” and “ordinary.” She even goes a step farther by saying, “[they’re] content, but fall short of the Divine.” What this entails then is the relationship is acceptable, but she fully understands at this point that it is not overly admirable or one-of-a-kind. By saying that it “falls short of the Divine,” she is expressing this idea, and possibly declaring that there is no love to it as that could be seen as the “Divine” she refers to.
Even with knowing that the relationship is lacking—maybe even that it is loveless—she will still hold to it though because it is useful to her. This notion is clear in the three final lines of the poem, that “because nothing else will do/To keep [her] from melancholy (call it blues),/[She’ll] fill this stolen time with [him].” Although she has openly stated that the relationship is flawed and that she finds shame in being a part of it, she is still interested enough in what she can gain from the relationship to remain. This notion is a verification of the subtle hints that occur throughout the poem.
In the end of ‘A Cozy Apologia’, we find the narrator is drawn to things that are useful in a relationship, and when that usefulness has run out, she loses interest like the poem loses structure. It is possible that the narrator is reflecting and learning as she goes, but even if she is learning these traits as we do, they still remain valid and evident throughout the poem.
About Rita Dove
Rita Dove has been a poet, a novelist, a teacher, and a lyricist. Through essays and short stories as well, her writing has found life in the public eye. Additionally, she was appointed the U.S. poet laureate—a position that had never been held by a woman, an African American, or someone as young as she was at the time. In the world of writing then, few names in the modern world can claim the kind of solidity that hers can.