‘Voiceover’ by Rita Dove explores the impossible beauty of nature, discussing the impossibility of remembering such incredible sights. At the same time, Dove briefly touches on ‘pain’, suggesting that it can find you anywhere, insinuating that nature is not an escape from this pain. Dove compares physical spaces such as a house, how the size allows someone to memorize the place of each room, while the huge expanse of nature becomes impossible to truly capture in memory.
‘Voiceover’ by Rita Dove begins by focusing on the natural landscape, commenting on the impossibility of truly remembering the vast expanse of beauty in a single memory. Dove then compares this sight to the memory of a house, suggesting that because the space is small, one can remember the layout of the whole thing. This suggests that nature is too expansive, perhaps too beautiful to truly capture in memory. Dove flows through images of memory and nature, exploring the world in a dream-like, philosophical state. The final image suggests that no matter where you are in the world, ‘pain knows a way into every crevice’, nature not being large enough to hide you from human suffering.
You can read the full poem here.
Dove writes ‘Voiceover’ over 9 stanzas, each measuring a different amount of lines. There is no rhyme scheme within the poem, Dove instead moving through images with dream-like ease. The lack of rhyme does not suggest a lack of cohesion, with Dove’s images beautifully moving throughout the poem. The lack of consistency within the number of lines per stanza could relate to the expanse of nature. Nature is presented as an expansive force of beauty, with humans not being able to capture its essence in one image due to the magnificence. Dove, therefore, represents the changing forms of nature within different scenes through her changing line structure, each different form representing different aspects of nature. The final line of the poem is separated from the rest into a single line, with the appearance of ‘pain’ being the final, and most dramatic, idea within the poem.
The most important technique Dove uses when writing ‘Voiceover’ is imagery. The central idea of the poem is the beauty of nature, with Dove using images to illustrate the extraordinary beauty nature holds. Each image is delicately formed, the ‘sun/emerging from behind the mountain ridge’ painting an incredible image of spectacular beauty.
Another technique that Dove employs when writing ‘Voiceover’ is hyphen punctuation. These hyphens create a metrical break in the lines, a form of a caesura that forces the reader to stop and appreciate the following images. Moreover, these hyphen clauses create separate images, Dove using them to encapsulate a scene, moving in and out of these remembered images. The idea of ‘everything’s in an envelope’ is also developed here, her ideas of nature being placed grammatically within caesura hyphens.
Analysis of Voiceover
Stanzas One and Two
Impossible to keep a landscape in your head.(…)at the same time.
The opening line of ‘Voiceover’ details Dove’s point in clear terms, ‘Impossible to keep a landscape in your head’ being the basis for the poem’s idea, exploring how nature is too grand to fit into one remembered image. The title, ‘Voiceover’, is being used to suggest that Dove herself is speaking these words, urging the reader to ‘Try it’ and join her on this exploration of nature’s beauty. She argues that nature cannot be captured in one image, ‘all you’ll get is pieces’, the unreliability of memory ensuring that nature will not be confined to one image.
The first image she explores is of the ‘sun’ coming up from the ‘mountain ridge’, ‘smoke coming off the ice on a thawing lake’, images that we can imagine, but only in dimmer terms than what would truly be there. Dove argues that this is because ‘our heads can’t contain/anything that vast’, the memory of this beauty ‘just leaks out’.
Dove then compares this ‘vast’ image of nature to being ‘inside a house’, suggesting that due to the familiarity of the small location you can ‘feel/the rooms you’re not in’, suggesting that you can remember everything around you. Due to the simplicity of a house, combined with the small scale of the building, the human mind can remember the layout, while with a larger idea of nature it cannot.
You can be inside the house, but you cannot look outside and remember both ‘at the same time’, nature is too grand and impossible to focus on both inside and outside simultaneously.
Stanzas 3 to 6
Where do we go with that?(…)and then you wake up.
Dove asks the reader, using rhetorical questions, ‘Where do we go…where does that lead us’, trying to explore the significance of what she has deduced.
She argues that some ‘spaces’ are ‘for living’, while some are ‘for forgetting’, the beauty of nature not meant to be constrained to a single image in memory, but rather lived over and over again.
There is autonomy to human life that seems somber, ‘popping a beer, gabbing on the phone’, the word ‘gabbing’ signaling the pointlessness of this human interaction. Dove is arguing that people stay indoors and live pointless lives while the beauty of nature continues elsewhere, it is human nature to become comfortable, to stop exploring. Dove rejects this notion, using ‘dream[s]’ as an example of the fact that humans, by nature, crave exploration and escape from this autonomous lifestyle.
Stanzas 7 to 9
Someone once said: There are no answers,(…)and pain knows a way into every crevice.
Dove suggests that ‘everything’s inside something else’, creating the idea that humans living in their houses are inside houses, but also inside the greater bubble of nature, which then, too, is inside the whole scope of the world. There is never-ending compartmentalization, with Dove asking the reader why they confine themselves to the smallest possible scope.
The final stanza introduces the idea of ‘pain’. Dove argues that ‘pain knows a way in’, even to the smallest spaces. Therefore, you cannot hide from emotional suffering within these tiny homes, ‘pain’ will follow you everywhere. So, why not leave, go and explore the wider world instead of confining yourself to the ‘home’ – find the beautiful moments of nature, live in those instead. Either way ‘pain’ will find you, so you may as well be happy when it does.