Sunday Poem – The Boatman

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(Source: Poetry Foundation)

Click through to the link and you can hear the poet reading it, which I recommend. I’m in the middle of understanding this. Here’s where I’m at:

  • The big, juicy lines here remind me of The Odyssey and other epic poetry. It seems likely to me that The Boatman is pointing us to Odysseus, and asking us to see the refugee as not just a victim but a person of ultimate bravery.
  • I don’t know anything about meter. Does the meter of this poem more specifically suggest epic works?
  • If that’s right, then the poem doesn’t go so far as to frame the refugee as entirely heroic, I think. The poem is clear that the refugee has been forced to the sea in the absence of any other options. What, then, does their epic heroism consist in?
  • (I have no clue. Maybe the poem suggests that real bravery consists in facing the horrors you’ve been dealt as opposed to seeking them out, from some love of adventure.)
  • The line-break that surprised me the most was “we fetched a child, not ours, from the sea, drifting face-//down in a life vest, its eyes taken by fish or the birds above us.”  Why break there? Why not keep “facedown” in the line?
  • I’m definitely going to read this again. What are your thoughts?
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