The idea of paths that could have been taken is a remarkable one. A person could probably spend their entire life imaging the infinite different ways the world could have taken them, re-learning the lessons they know, and un-learning others. The idea that things don’t always go the way they might have, could have, or even should have is such a strange and beautiful one that it’s difficult to not stop and think about it every once in a while. The poem ‘Sometimes’ explores these possibilities, and above them, the possibility of optimism and of things not going the way they’re expected to in a good way. A bit of optimism adds a healthy sense of gladness to the poem, and it is a strong example of something positive, where poetry is so often used for the expression of more painful or personal feelings.
Typically the historic context is better suited at the end of the analysis, but an observant (and even a non-observant) reader will note that the name of the author hasn’t been used thus far in this article. This is intentional; the author of the poem has made a great effort to remain distant from it, and has expressed their own disdain for the work. This is because this poem stands out in many ways from their established body of work, and does not represent their style, feelings, or preferences very well. Originally, ‘Sometimes’ was written specifically for a person known to the author (a male, which is part of why the pronouns used are all male) who was enduring a difficult period in life, and so was not intended for publication or popularity at all.
The author of this analysis wishes to respect their desire for anonymity, and so doesn’t have very much historic context to write about. Fortunately, the poem represents its own meaning fairly well and is fully capable of standing alone as its own established and thought-provoking work of art.
Analysis of Sometimes
Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
The first verse of the poem, which can be read in full here, begins by citing the often-heard idea that things tend to go “from bad to worse.” Except for sometimes, as the first line suggests; every once in a while, the poem proposes, things don’t get quite so bad. The poem uses the metaphor of muscadel, a kind of grape, and points out that every once in a while, the crops overcome the frost, and instead of failing from winter, thrives instead, and is stronger for the adaptation. The final line of the poem is more direct, suggesting that every once in a while, “a man” attempts something ambitious and succeeds.
The established rhyme is fairly loose in this piece; in the first and third verses (each a quatrain), it is the second and fourth lines that rhyme, while in the second verse, it is the first and last ones that do. The syllable count is also loose, but the poem retains an overall structure that enables easy flow and sense.
A people sometimes will step back from war;
Some men become what they were born for.
The second verse continues in a very similar stream to the first one, particularly in the spirit of optimism, the idea of a positive “sometimes.” Now the work cites history, albeit indirectly, saying that wars don’t last forever; that not all politicians are dishonest, and give to charity and the homeless. The fact that these instances exist, or have ever existed, is proof that sometimes, as the “thesis statement” of this poem states, things do not always begin bad and progress into being worse. There is, and continues to be, noticeable good in the world that should not be ignored, but allowed to influence opinions just as strongly as the negative things (such as when people engage in war, elect dishonest people, and ignore their poor).
Sometimes our best efforts do not go
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.
There’s a strong counterpoint to the message of this poem, and that is the list of things that usually go wrong that it uses to prove its point. Sometimes, it suggests, good things happen to good people. As this verse suggests, sometimes a person puts their best effort into something and is rewarded justly for it. But if sometimes good things happen, then sometimes bad things happen too. The poem’s central premise is perhaps its own strongest counter-argument, which makes for a truly unique perspective. The whole nature of the idea of “sometimes” leaves a massive unspoken element to itself: “…and other times.”
The third verse addresses this idea in its honest and sincere finishing line: “May it happen for you.” The poem invites the reader to contemplate the nature of the world as a mix of good things and bad things and to remember that one bad thing does not have to lead to another. Rather than spiraling into a bleak outlook, one that can only see the bad in the world, it is good to remember that sometimes, just sometimes, things get better instead of falling apart. Equally, it is important not to expect that things won’t sometimes get worse before they get better.
This is ultimately a poem about hope, and about feeling hopeful. It is about holding onto the spirit of optimism and remembering that there are good things in the world that balance out the bad, and about not falling prey to hopelessness. The poem utilizes beautiful metaphors to relay that message — the image of frost-covered grapes, and the sun that melts a field of sorrow (though it is believed that the intended word is “snow”), both images of winter. Winter too can be beautiful to look at and devastating to be caught in, making it a useful analogy for the nature of the world — sometimes it’s wonderful, and sometimes it’s horrible. It can never simply be one or the other, and generally speaking, it is better to hope — as the speaker does — that for you, the most bitterly frozen fields will melt under the glow of the sun that never went away.