the almost perfect poem


On a second reading of a poem that has wowed us, we might grow even more interested, but we start to sober up. For my own part, initial admiration for a single poem often tempts me into a vocabulary I would rather avoid. The Australian poet Stephen Edgar’s poem “Man on the Moon” can be found in his collection Other Summers, or—more quickly, and for free—in the selection devoted to his work in the Guest Poets section of my website, With a single reservation, I think it is a perfect poem, although “perfect” is an adjective I would rather not be caught using. The word just doesn’t convey enough meaning to cover, or even approach, the integrity of the manufacture. I knew that already on a first reading. But on a second reading, I begin to know how I knew it:

Hardly a feature in the evening sky As yet—near the horizon the cold glow Of rose and mauve which, as you look on high, Deepens to Giotto’s dream of indigo.

Giotto is dreaming of indigo because he couldn’t get enough of it: in his time it was a pigment worth its weight in gold. Edgar is always good on facts like that. I could write a commentary picking up on such points, but it wouldn’t say why the poem is perfect, or almost so. The obvious conclusion is that I don’t need to say that. But I want to, because a task has been fudged if I don’t. There are plenty of poems full of solid moments, but the moments don’t hang together even by gravity. So why, in this case, do they cohere?

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