the shrinking lonesome sestina by miller williams

In this poem, The Shrinking Lonesome Sestina, Miller Williams draws the reader to the attention that the poem is going to be in Sestina format. The title also conveys that some type of loneliness is going to be addressed. The poem is filled with vivid imagery and descriptions that draw forth strong emotions from the reader. Reading of the poem is not interrupted by the required six fixed words of home, time, come, goes, fast and to. Williams’s mastery of words follows the requirements of the Sestina format without leaving the reader bored or confused.

In the first stanza, the reader is filled with a sense of longing that is a universal feeling. “Somewhere in everyone’s head something points toward home. ” (Williams, line 1) The desire to return to our roots of home is a universal concept that can be felt by any reader within any culture. Yet at the same time, the poem portrays the maternal instincts of a mother longing to have her children return to the nest. “It doesn’t matter how we come to be wherever we are” strongly suggests the maternal love that will always be present.

No matter what choices we make in life or paths we choose to follow, the mother in our lives will always love us and want us home. Home is a place that one can return to unconditionally. Williams uses the vivid and strong imagery of “a dashboard’s floating compass, turning all the time to keep from turning” (Williams, lines 2 & 3). The compass symbolizes the decisions or directions that life’s journey has to offer. Williams gives the reader acknowledgement that the paths taken in life are not direct and straight.

Choices must be made and often times an inner struggle arises from not having a clear map of which paths to take in life. Yet, Williams gives the reader hope because “nothing holds fast to where it belongs, or what you’ve risen or fallen to”. (Williams, lines 5 & 6) No matter what events a child has succeeded or failed throughout life, a mother’s love is unconditional. Williams gives the reader the meaning of maternal love. An awareness that home is the place for everyone to return to without being judged is demonstrated in this stanza of the poem.

The reader is again treated with strong symbolic imagery in the second stanza of the poem. In comparison to the first stanza, the second stanza contains shorter verses. Following the title, the second stanza is shrinking in size in the poem. Bubbles are a part of childhood play. The “bubble” symbolizes childhood memories (Williams, line 7) As adults we are busy with life and often miss the things in our lives that reflect back to our childhoods. Williams holds true to the title of shrinking as our lives become too hectic and chaotic to spend time reflecting on the past.

As a result, our childhood memories begin to shrink with time. Time is one of the fixed key words of the poem. The shrinking of memories and demands of life time becomes the universal enemy. The striking imagery of “mole-like memories” attests to the heavy hand that time can cast. (Williams, line 13) In this third stanza, Williams paints a striking sense of loneliness as the children progress from “high school” to having “kids”. (Williams, line 16 &18) The emptiness that the mother must feel as she watches her children grow and leave home is powerful.

The inability of the mother to control the direction and choices of the children’s lives is reflected in the last part of the stanza where the son “drives too fast”. (Williams, line 18) Williams has the poem evolve full circle back to the “floating compass”, symbolizing that children become adults making their choices without the guidance of the mother. (Williams, line 2) The mother’s desire for the children to slow down in life and to reflect on childhood is both sad and disheartening. A sense of loneliness and longing is even more paramount as the poem progresses to the fourth stanza.

Williams demonstrates how fragile a mother can feel when fatigued from worry and disappointment. With the house now empty, the mother wakes in the early mornings with a strong longing for her family to be with her. (Williams, lines 22-24) The continuation of the theme that time is the universal enemy is present in the third stanza. Even in the dark hours of the night, the mother cannot escape and rest but is plagued with loneliness. “Your sister was going to come but didn’t have the time. ” (Williams, line 20) Everyone but the mother seems to be busy with life causing a resentment that no-one seems to be able to visit.

The mother’s frustration and resentment evolves back to the unconditional love in the fourth stanza. Instead of focusing on herself, the mother turns her attention back to the children and warns them to “hold on fast to thoughts of home”. (Williams, lines 27 & 28) Williams stays with the title of the poem by having this strong warning written in shorter verses then the previous stanzas of the poem. Through the warning, Williams is able to paint how hopeless and lonely the mother must be feeling during the early morning hours. A reader can virtually picture a woman pacing back and forth in her bathrobe talking aloud to her absent children.

A further sense of panic is invoked by the fifth stanza. Williams not only writes single verse lines but uses the six fixed words required by the Sestina poetry style. A plead for an end to the loneliness is given by the mother out of sheer agony. Williams uses the fifth stanza to show the mother’s vulnerability. The words spring forth from the page one by one invoking a strong connection between the reader and the mother. If for any reason the reader had not yet been able to empathize with the mother, the fifth stanza certainly seals the bond and forms an intense connection.

Holding true to the universal theme that time is the enemy, the fifth stanza is also a plea to time. The mother desperately wants her children to return home before it is too late. The fifth stanza resonates with the mother’s anguish and turmoil that has been building throughout the entire poem. Realization of her anguish and exposure of her desires, the last stanza of the poem is an awakening for the mother. It is as if she suddenly awakens from her restless thoughts in the early morning hours and focuses again on giving unconditional love.

She says “forgive me that” aware that she may have burdened her children with her loneliness and desires. (Williams, line 37) She goes full circle into acceptance that eventually everyone will return home and she says “me, I’ll still be home”. (Williams, line 39) Williams brings full circle the concept that everyone wants to return home to actually being able to come home to a mother of unconditional love. Unconditional love is a universal theme among all parents. Even though Williams’s poem is about a mother and her children, Williams speaks to all readers of every race and culture because we are all victims of time. The Sestina poetry style only enhanced the poem because Williams chose the six fixed words very carefully. The monosyllabic verse was powerful and engaging. Even though the poem was about a particular mother’s plight and desires, it also demonstrates the universal need of parents and children to have reunions. As parents, people like to feel in control of their emotions and remain steadfast and strong for their children. As children, people like to know that no matter what they did with their lives, they can always return home with a loving parent waiting for them with open arms

Rebecca J.
Rebecca J.

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