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Abhishek Sen English SL June 3, 2013

May 2002 Paper 1 - Poem


In the poem After The Flood, W.S. Merwin writes about the widespread destruction caused by a flood, and the memories it evokes within the narrator. Merwin especially concentrates on the inevitability of nature, describing, in a conversation tone, the savage and changing mood of the river. The narrator is heavily characterized as he walks in the Jersey side through his observations and comments. The river is also characterized through the poem through the narrative voice, as well as animalistic and visual imagery. Focused on in the poem is also the theme of time and memory, referred to in various places in the poem, showing nostalgia at the losses encountered due to the flood.

The narrator is primarily characterized through the observations he makes during his walk through Jersey. The poem employs a nostalgic conversational tone which came be seen through the narrators reminiscing when he says "I walked" (line 1) and later adds "Two days before" (line 15). Finally when the narrator implies "things [he] felt [he] must surely remember they looked so familiar" confirms that the destruction caused has left the place unrecognizable to him. The speakers reaction, however, is informal and casual revealing his calm and composed personality despite the chaos around him. He does not seem to get hysterical nor unnerved about the visual predicament before him. His expertise about Jersey, and having lived through seeing its beauty was a blessing and now a curse as he can now work out the intensity and magnitude of the damage. This tranquil personality also makes the observer seem emotionless. Towards the vast wreckage, he feels almost disappointed with *himself+, [he] made [him]self think of how much we had been spared (line 24-25). This depicts his cold
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Abhishek Sen English SL June 3, 2013

character as the speaker doesnt feel as though it is worthy of his attention that he was spared by the flood. Lastly, a prominent characteristic of the speaker is his nostalgic nature. He compares the present with the past various times in the poem such as when he states now it seemed noisy again (line 21) and how much more quiet the swollen water seemed than *he+ expected (line 17-19). The visual and auditory imagery in the quotations shows the attention to detail with which the narrator remembers the past as well as the link he continuously makes with the present and past. The river is characterized with a split personality in the poem through the narrative voice, and the use of animalistic and visual imagery. The poet starts off by giving us a beautiful description of the Jersey side, where there is a park, and where even in summer the river is at least two feet higher than it is on our side (line 2-4) comparing the visual imagery of the rivers height in summer for the setting linger in reader, only to follow it up by explaining the terror that beheld the area. Even though the river was considered exotic and beautiful by the poet, it was the reason for so much loss and suffering, illuminating its dual personality. The destruction is a direct consequence of the flood and the speaker, describing the river as some beast sneaking (line 20) and holding the river responsible for the damage and loss through the animalistic imagery. Further animal imagery is used when the river is couple with a sea -gull creaking (line 22). The auditory imagery of the cry of the sea gull is a metaphor to show the unrest and pain that has been left behind due to the savage side of the rivers personality. Its screeches are compared to that of the destroyed places giving an almost ominous and depressing tone to the poem. The flood, as described many times, has destroyed various communities and lives. Conclusively, the speaker notice[s], near the bottom of the park, just
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Abhishek Sen English SL June 3, 2013

below, the high-water line, an old coat hanging, snagged on a tree-branch, and caught myself wondering, what sort of drunken creature had passed there (line 27-31). These lines add a feeling of resentment towards the river as taking advantage of the drunken creature who mishaply was washed away in the rivers destruction. The speaker has no idea who the coat belonged to or if its owner were drunk, but assumes that to fall in the rivers grasp, the creature has to be intoxicated in order to get taken advantage of. The coat creates a sense of despair as inferring that the owner is forever lost. The author intentionally leaves this line to the readers imagination as his fate, like many affected by the flood, is unknown, just as the implications behind the last line are.

The theme of memory appears many times to compare the scenery and mental thought of the speaker before and after the flood. Time is especially significant in deciphering the structure of the poem. It is made up of three parts that is divided into past, present and past. The poem starts with a calm atmosphere which is reached where histories would never get told (line 13). The present section is then used to create an image in the readers mind of the rivers deceptive nature and destruction associated after the flood ending at beast sneaking (line 20). The third past section, once again, exudes a calm and nonchalant tone from the narrator. These three sections also divide up the poem into a continuous flow of before the flood, during the flood, and the aftermath of the flood, representing a closed loop from which there was no exit for those caught up in the disaster. Memory is also referenced numerous times through the repetition of the word remember in line 6, 11 and 14. This emphasizes the unrecognizable nature of the Jersey area that the rivers damage has caused it to become. The
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Abhishek Sen English SL June 3, 2013

speaker constantly has to strain his memory to identify familiar landmarks that seem incomprehensible after the flood. In conclusion, the poem After The Flood by W.S. Merwin places great importance on the characterization of the narrator as well as the river while combining it with an integral theme of time and memory. Merwin primarily characterizes the narrator through his observations and reactions the visual stimulus around him. The river is also characterized by the author with two polar personalities, depicted through juxtaposing descriptions of its behavior from the narrator. The theme of time and memory is hinted at through the structure employed in the poem as well as repetition of remembrance on the Jersey area before the flood. The themes and characterizations are significant in contributing to the writers intention behind the poem. Merwins intention is to show the hapless resistance against a force of nature such as a flood, and the prevalent and irreversible damage it can do to areas and lives.