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On "It Is March"

Carol Kyle

The "thread" image appears in a very traditional form in The Lice in the poem "It Is March." The classical image of the thread of life offsets the very modern image of a grey string attached to a price tag in a dirty street in March, before spring.

It is March and black dust falls out of the books
                            . . . . .
On the avenues the colorless thread lies under
Old prices

Even the tails (the strings, the threads) of the kites are "covered with footsteps" as if they are bridges to the unseen and as if the need for housecleaning is everywhere. "Whatever I have to do has not yet begun," the poem closes. The old year is well represented by this old, dirty, yet colorless thread, the life is drained out of it by the winter snow, and its vitality is hidden in the soot of the past. Still, the thread image is not the most dramatic of the most convincing image of the poem. Perhaps that is the point: because of this lifeless thread, the graves of the dead are open and the end is at hand: "The fist is coming out of the egg / The thermometers out of the mouths of the corpses." The optimism lies in the speaker's persistent bent toward a fresh beginning in the absolute and ultimate face of the end. As a result the poem shifts from a definition of March as the month before the "cruelest month" to a recognition of that terrible urge for the clean, for the fresh, for the new that must be an archetypal human need, which March as we know it represents.

from "A Riddle for the New Year: Affirmation in W.S. Merwin." Modern Poetry Studies 4.3 (1973).

Return to W.S. Merwin