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Poetry Commentary: The Secret Life of Books

Poetry Commentary: The Secret Life of Books

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Commentary on Stephen Edgar's "The Secret Life of Books."
Commentary on Stephen Edgar's "The Secret Life of Books."

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Published by: Pinnapa Phetcharatana on Mar 28, 2011
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IB English A1 HL December 14, 2010 PinnapaPhetcharatana
Poetry Commentary:
The Secret Life of Books
byStephen Edgar
The Secret Life of Books
by Stephen Edgar is a poem thatpersonifies books, making them appear to be alive and human-like, asif they hold a deeper purpose in this world rather than just to giveaccounts or be a source of leisure. Interesting aspects of this poeminclude Edgar’s portrayal of the books as a magical force which allowsreaders to focus on its essence of introducing new ideas rather thanjust plain material existences of ink and paper; the irony of the comicaltone of the speaker contrasted against the philosophical content in hiswords; and lastly, the idea of how books hold a silent power with thecapability of luring and having influence upon its readers to the extentwhere they may lose their identity.This poem is written in six stanzas, each containing five lines.The lines in each stanza are alternated between short- and long-lengths in order to create a unique and playful shape. Some stanzasare linked together through the same sentence; sentences areincomplete at the end of the stanza, (e.g. stanza two to three andthree to four). This technique could be linked to how the speakerwishes to evoke a feeling of suspense from his readers- in the sameway that in the ending of a book’s chapter, the author leaves outcertain words and facts, causing his readers to anticipate outcomesand become tempted to turn over to a new page. Because of this,there is an unusual mood and tone created by the speaker. Yet,however, it is ironic that the speaker has decided to employ a light andcomical tone when he presents ideas that hold a more serious contentand are highly thought-provoking.1
 
IB English A1 HL December 14, 2010 PinnapaPhetcharatanaIn the opening stanza, the speaker opens with “
They have their strategems too, though they can’t move
.” The speaker may be awareof the world’s common materialistic view of books, and he feels that itis important to not underestimate their power (“…
though they can’t move, they know their parts.”)
. In this stanza the speaker creates arhyme between the words “
parts
” and “
hearts
” in order to add a senseof grandness to the opening, given that this pair of words are the onlyrhymes found in the poem. The fact that this poem is written in freeverse (hence lack of proper rhyme scheme) suggests that the speakermay be lost in contemplation or an overly-driven passion or influence,perhaps by the great power of books as he suggests.The speaker portrays the books as divine but cunning elements.The personification causes readers to forget that books are immovableobjects; instead it brings to mind that they may serve a larger purpose,perhaps to reflect on ideas and explore new perspectives. Bymentioning that books
do their work through others,” 
there is asuggestion that they were not written to directly persuade orpropagandize readers; but rather its contents invites readers into thescenes, allowing them the opportunity to see, for themselves, from anentirely different viewpoint-
 
and as a result the books turn
“the world to their account by the twisting of hearts.” 
There is an emphasis placedupon the stealth power of books. Initially readers may have regardedbooks as simple immovable objects, but the speaker’s effective use of personification has opened up a new idea that these ‘objects’ hold thepower to shift minds.There is a tone of youthful enthusiasm in the second stanza asthe speaker asks readers: “
What do they have to say and how do they 
2
 
IB English A1 HL December 14, 2010 PinnapaPhetcharatana
say it?” 
It is interesting how the speaker may view his audience asyoung children, hence the sudden shift from the deep and thoughtfultone in the first stanza to a now playful tone. However the speakerdoes not answer the question he has posed, but rather he proceeds toexplore different settings, “
in the library, at night, or the sun room…” 
which all appear to be insignificant details. Perhaps the speakermentions this to suggest that no matter where the books are, theirideas and purposes follow along with them. A sense of mystery isadded as the speaker mentions the “
curled thriller by the window
” andthat “
something is going on [...] that you don’t know of…
” yet he doesnot explicitly state what. This evokes anticipation among readers asthere is a rapid transition into the next stanza.The playful and eager attitude is continuously present in thethird stanza. It appears that the speaker may be absorbed infascination while he is speaking as well. He begins to directly addressthe reader: “
Yet they [the books] need you
.” There is a change of mood as the books are suddenly portrayed as dependent upon itsreaders, contrasted with its mighty power suggested earlier in theopening stanza. The focus is then shifted towards the “
you
” that thespeaker is addressing. Assuming that the speaker means to addressthe reader of the book, he claims that readers often
scoff at determinism
,” perhaps meaning that often readers are selective of books (mocking humans-
Why this one?
”), judging them by theircovers or the content that they have quickly skimmed over. Theinteresting part is that the speaker mentions
the selfish gene
,”attempting to reduce humans into scientific, materialistic terms-whereas he portrays the books to be spiritual and human-like. Thespeaker again places an emphasis on the alluring power of the books:
Look already the blurb is drawing in
,” as if it were a contagious force.3

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