To What Extent Is a Focus on Metaphor and Symbol Central to an Analysis of Understanding of Douglass Dunn's Poetry?

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To what extent is a focus on metaphor and symbol central to an analysis and understanding of Douglas Dunn’s poetry? (The Kaleidoscope/Sandra’s Mobile/Second Opinion) It is considered more difficult for a poet to grab the attention and imagination of an audience than it is for an author. The use of metaphor and symbol in poetry means that the poet can say one thing and invoke a whole range of possibilities, be it love, anger, jealousy or envy; an old memory or a new wish. The use of metaphors and symbols enables the audience to see what they believe Dunn meant, by imaging his true meaning of a word. The three poems I have chosen to study are: ‘’The Kaleidoscope’’, ‘’Sandra’s Mobile’’ and ‘’Second Opinion’’. These are all part of the Elegies, a selection of poems written after his Wife died. As a result, much of the language used in the poems tends to signify memories or personal belongings. The way that Dunn tells his poems are very emotive, and as it says in the Critical Anthology ‘It is typical that metaphors use concrete images to convey something abstract, helping to communicate what is hard to explain’. The first two poems, ‘The Kaleidoscope’ and ‘Sandra’s Model’ feature a lot of physical items that are metaphors for emotions and feelings. The doves representing love, the tray representing burden and it is through this conceptualisation that the reader can truly relate to Dunn’s imagery.

There is, however, a problem with symbolisms; there is never a guarantee that what the reader reads is what Dunn means. ‘In Literature, the symbols employed by writers can sometimes be private or personal, and this can pose problems for the reader in the interpretation of what the writer actually means’. As a reader, we encounter this problem a number of times in Dunn’s poetry, because each poem symbolises a certain memory of his wife, and while Dunn was there, and experienced it, the reader didn’t, and, as a result of this, we don’t know what Dunn means. For example, in ‘Sandra’s Mobile’ we know that his wife is in possession of a mobile, yet why is it called ‘Sandra’s mobile’? There are gaps in the readers understanding which influence their grasp of the true meaning of the poem, and, as a result of this, we have to make do with what we see and imagine, as opposed to what we are told. If we go through the poems just reading and assuming, we see a man, driven half mad with guilt and despair for the loss of his wife, when in fact, we have a man, remembering both the good and the bad times he shared with his wife, and whilst we don’t feel the full power of guilt and blame, we understand, to a degree, what he is going through.

Throughout the poems we have studied, there is never the mention of a name or relationship, the closest we get to Dunn’s wife is the use of the word ‘her’, in the poem ‘Second Opinion’. This could symbolise a multitude of things, it could suggest a grief so terrible that Dunn has detached himself from his relation, but the poems themselves prove this to be unlikely. Another reading could be that Dunn blames his wife for leaving him alone in the world, as in ‘The Kaleidoscope’ Dunn refers to dying as ‘as if preparing for a holiday’ implying a willing choice to leave and a desire on Dunn’s part, for a return.

‘’The Kaleidoscope’’ is a sonnet which seems to focus on the struggle and turmoil involved with the pain of losing a loved one. It can be seen that Dunn is being held back by the memory of his wife in her final days. The use of the words ‘’I climb these stairs a dozen times a day and, by the open door, wait, looking in at where you died’’ implies a direct link back to those hard days of turmoil in which his wife required constant attention. The idea that he has the time to climb these stairs dozens of times a day could symbolise that he is lost without her, that he has nothing to do, and, as a result, he tries to anchor himself back to those days. The punctuation used in these lines slows the poem down,...
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