Jack Gilbert, “Measuring the Tyger”

Incandescent ingots big as cars / trundling out of titanic mills, red slag scaling off / the brighter metal in the dark.

I want to go back to that time after Michiko’s death / when I cried every day among the trees.

Gilbert, who died a few days ago, was a master of fragments. Powerful, lyrical moments with occasional bursts of gut-punching revelation. In honor of his work, I’m cheating a little with these two sentences from the same poem which are an illustrative pair. The first is a fragmentary series of images with the sound turned up to eleven–alliterative, industrial images so mythical and haunting in their detail. The second is a simple and heartbreaking declaration, that the speaker wants to go back to a time of ultimate grief and the loss of a beloved. It’s telling that the speaker doesn’t wish to go back to a time when his beloved was alive. Part of the power of the second sentence is that it follows the detail of the first. Without the first sentence (or details like it), the second sentence risks sentimentality; with it, it rides straight into one’s heart.

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