Commentary on After The Flood- M.S. Merwin
Commentary on “After The Flood”- M.S. Merwin
The title “After The Flood” is quite straightforward. The poet is clear in exhibiting to readers that this poem deals with the aftermath of a flood. “After” evidently points towards the past and “Flood” depicts a natural disaster cause by the overflowing of a river.
The poem is organized into 31 lines with no distinct paragraphs. There is a use of commas and full stops. I find the usage of commas and full stops in between lines a very important as this has allowed the poet to switch between the past and the into a memory further into the past and also focus on important observations.
The language in this poem is universal, the poet has composed this poem for a general audience to understand. The poet clearly paints a visual image in the reader’s mind of the destruction caused by the river. The poem is not fiction and the only voice detected in the poem is that of the poet. There is no usage of rhyming words at the end of lines. Merwin has used hyperbole by using phrases like “swollen river” and called the river “beast” and “creature”. But one can relate to him using such extreme words, as the damage cause by the river is colossal and usually cause by a “beast. A form of irony could be the fact that there is a lot of “noise after the flood” in the form “a sea-gull creaking”. The irony is the fact that usually in a park there is a lot of noise and probably after a disaster there is silence but actually the noise has increased.
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The theme of this poem is the comprehensive detail of the destruction of a flooded river, accounted by the poet. There is a sense of nostalgia as the poet remembers coming to the park a few days ago. He remembers the place but the destruction is so great that he cannot get the image to match the park he remembers. “I felt I must surely remember, they looked so familiar” shows that. Another theme could be the poet describing Nature as beauty but also a cause of destruction. He feels betrayed by the river, for it has been calm and relaxed all this while and in a flash it destroys everything in its path. A very interesting observation can be made is that Merwin remains calm while describing the setting, while others would probably get distraught. It kind of gives the feeling that the poet had anticipated that the river would do this but yet again he cannot match the current image with that of which he remembers. He is surprised that just two days ago this was a place of tranquility and serenity and now it looks like a battlefield. A well-placed phrase for the poet’s feelings right now could be “the calm before the storm” because the author remembers this place to be exotic but now it’s destroyed. The poet has elegantly interchanged between a more recent past and a deeper past, known as the past perfect. The first two sections sees the poet entering the scene, and describing the aftermath. He then describes his earlier memory of this place and finally goes back into the recent past. The poet has a “flash back” while describing the scene.
The tone of this poem is serious, concerned and little bit of sadness. There is also disappointment on the river by the poet, the line “Almost disappointed myself ”shows the reader that he feels betrayed by the river. There is nostalgia too as Merwin still has happy memories of the park and the river. Since the poem is written is Merwin’s point of view, the readers see everything he sees, everything he feels. The title plays a crucial part as “After the Flood” the park gets destroyed. There is also a sense of mystery and anonymity in the line “ an old coat hanging”. The owner could have been swept away by the river or it could have just been a homeless person who had hung his coat there and just forgot about it. The poet has left this up to the readers’ to imagine. Another idea in this poem could be the impact and effect natural disasters have upon mankind and animals. Sometimes the damage is not only physical but also emotional.
This poem gives me a very clear notion; the poet is disturbed and upset by this rash behavior by the river (which in a way, he has personified the river). But according to me this gives readers the feeling that life is always unknown, how such a calm thing can became unstable in a matter of days/hours. In my opinion the author is trying to prepare readers to face dangers with a strong will. A very interesting line is “What sort of drunken creature had passed there”. This line interested me because if the meaning is literal than it clears the “old coat” mystery, as only an intoxicated person would venture into such a dangerous place and thus been swept away by the river and his coat being snagged on a branch. But I feel that the poet could mean something else; he could be referring to the river as a “drunken creature” itself. The path of a river is always fixed but when it floods it can flow in any direction. This is similar to a drunk person who cannot walk in a straight direction and sways just like the flooded river flows in any direction. Additionally the usage of the past perfect by the poet to describe to us the situation in a recent past, then venture into a memory and come back again into past is used to give the poem depth.
B.D. Somani International