‘The Pornographer’ is a poem about an artist who weaves stories of explicit sensual content. This person badly wants to cleanse his mind. However, he gets stuck badly with the thoughts that ironically help him to survive. In this piece, Robert Hass tries to portray how it feels when one person cannot think outside of the world that feeds on a crude kind of pleasure, perplexed between bodily imagery and erotic thoughts.
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‘The Pornographer’ by Robert Hass describes how a pornographer’s mind struggles to find peace amidst the chaotic thoughts of his work.
This piece captures a simple day of a pornographer’s life. He ends his daily work and walks out to find peace. It is a sweet, sunny afternoon; orioles rise aflame from a nearby orchard. No matter how uplifting the scene is, his mind finds no rest. He is tired of dealing with gross human bodies. All he wants is silence, an endless sky, and a never-ending horizon. In contrast, when he attempts to do so, the thoughts of his work return and trouble his mind.
You can read the full poem here.
He has finished a day’s work.
where orioles rise aflame from the orchard.
The first few lines of the poem ‘The Pornographer’ describe the time and place. Through this piece, readers can have a glimpse into a day of a pornographer’s life. His day begins with his daily work of writing or brainstorming about the plot of his next story. After finishing his day’s work, he places his pencil in a marmalade jar.
The speaker describes the jar’s color by using the image of an old Chinese wall contrasted in a Sierra meadow. Its “soft grey” color symbolizes the dull and mundane life of the artist. He wants to freshen his mind up. In order to do so, he walks from his shed into the afternoon. He finds orioles rising from a nearby orchard. This scene has a liberating effect on his mind. Besides, the image of the flaming orioles hints at the pornographer’s state of mind.
He likes the sun and he is tired
Once again he is marched to the wall.
According to the speaker, the pornographer has a liking for the warmth of the sun. He is too tired of his life and the art he has spent his whole life on.
Whenever he closes his eyes to get some rest, the gross images of the human body related to his work flood his mind. He can clearly visualize the images of the brown, starfish-like anus of his heroine, wet hairs of the armpit and thigh, and roseate enfoldings of labia.
The pornographer can feel the pressure. His mind gets darkened with such thoughts. Moreover, he is always in fear of the criticism or reaction of his readers. He knows the sudden drawbacks in his plot can affect the magic of his book.
In the next lines, Hass guesses that the person is somewhere in Central Asia. His mind is again diverted to the grey wall of his room.
All the faces are impassive. Now
sometimes evening chill.
In the last few lines of the poem, Hass probes deeper into the person’s mind. The characters that the pornographer creates have impassioned faces. There is no love or emotion in their eyes. They do what they have to do for survival.
At this point, he feels there is some sort of absurdity in what he does. Everything he has been doing, all of a sudden, makes no sense to him. He feels blinded.
Furthermore, he closed his eyes to release the tension. After a long silence, he tries to think about something else except his work. He imagines the endless sky, the horizon, and the swift cloud scuds. Each time, he tries to stand as calmly as he can. It is the calmness that is missing in his life. So, he finds it sometimes standing in morning warmth or in the chilling evening.
Hass’s ‘The Pornographer’ is a free-verse poem. It does not have a regular rhyme scheme or meter. The text consists of a total of 25 lines that are grouped into a single stanza. Hass makes use of end-stopped lines in order to conclude the sense of a particular line or section. Regarding the point of view, the poem is written from the perspective of a third-person narrator who looks into the mind of a pornographer.
Hass makes use of the following literary devices in ‘The Pornographer’.
- Enjambment: It occurs in the first seven lines of the poem, except the first line. Hass uses this device to maintain an unbreakable flow while reading the lines.
- Metaphor: In “the soft grey/ of a crumbling Chinese wall,” the poet compares the color of the jar to that of a Chinese wall.
- Imagery: Readers can find extensive use of visual imagery in this piece. For instance, Hass uses a few images to describe the color of the marmalade jar.
- Alliteration: It occurs in “his heroine”, “falls from”, “slippery stone”, etc.
Robert Hass’s poem ‘The Pornographer’ is about a pornographer’s day-to-day life. In this poem, Hass describes a day of his life. He depicts how he struggles to get rid of the thoughts of his work.
The poem was published in 1973. It appears in Robert Hass’s first poetry collection, Field Guide. He won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award for this collection.
The pornographer is troubled by the gross images of the human body tied to his work. Whenever he tries to calm his mind, he sees the anus of his heroine, the hair of armpit and thighs, and the roseate enfoldings of labia.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Robert Hass’s poem ‘The Pornographer’.
- ‘Sex Without Love’ by Sharon Olds — This piece is about the implications of relationships based on sex rather than emotional love.
- ‘Their Sex Life’ by A. R. Ammons — This poem is about modern sex life and human relationships.
- ‘Dry-Point’ by Philip Larkin — In this poem, Larkin uses the image of a bubble to depict the pinnacle of sexual longing.
You can also explore more Robert Hass poems.