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The human mind is defined by a stream of endless thoughts, the faculty of reasoning and logic. The mind is the epicenter for all human activities, emotions, and essential functions. But how is the human mind so simply defined when it is a complex of intangible power. The human mind possesses a power which leaves us in awe but also quivering in fear. This fear and insecurity is addressed in Robert Duncan's poem, Often I am Permitted to Return to a Meadow. Duncan's poem addresses the struggle for power and possession over one's own mind. He perpetuates the metaphor of the mind being like a meadow hidden deep within the confines of his imagination as to extenuate the lack of understanding and obscureness that surrounds the 'mind'. Which, in its raw and unadulterated form, the mind is inexplicably powerful beyond reason and explanation, and undoubtedly beautiful. However, the mind harbors the potential to to drive a man into imprisoning himself into the darkness and insanity that is also his, and thus the ever ongoing power struggle never seizes to stop. Duncan utilizes the meadow as a metaphor into representing the human mind, to be specific, his mind. In the title of the poem that continues the first stanza, Duncan declares that often he is “permitted” to return to a meadow, implying that in this meadow in which he often frequents, there are times when he holds no authority to return to the
place. The authority to return to this meadow is not solely his, and in instilling this crucial keyword, Duncan presents this lack of control he has over a place that has taken residence in his own mind. This representation of events creates situational irony in which that even in a place so personal; like self, the mind is not controlled by its owner, and thus the authority of ownership is diminished. Duncan supplements the question of entitlement even further as he uses contradiction of the mind being a place “that is not mine” but yet at the same time “that is mine”. The writer employs this contradiction to emphasize an external and superficial sense of possession but an internal lack of power to ever truly possess. Duncan illustrates his mind into being an imaginative place, a place that is almost ethereal in quality and incomprehensibly remarkable. Duncan uses the alliteration of 'm's to craft a pleasurable aesthetic, as the words tend to carry a soft whisper-like audio effect. The alliteration of sounds help creates a dimension of the mind that is in a sense beautiful to hear, however, contextually the alliteration of the m's also highlight the speaker's sense of hesitancy in approaching the subject of his own mind. The speaker at one point says “it's mines”, yet “it's not mines”, it is a “made up” in a “made place” which creates this internal struggle that the speaker has to be definitive. The alliteration at the same time minimizes the speaker's ethos as it is clear to the reader that the speaker does not speak with a 'clear mind', rather it's muddled and confused. Duncan extends the metaphor of the mind further by adding that his mind is like an eternal “pasture folded in all thought (4)” and that pasture is near to his “heart (3)”. The pasture that is his mind lacks the ability to coincide with 'logic' (a logic that humans understand anyways), therefore, this pasture is instead 'folded' or wrapped inside the logic we humans try to
label and taint our minds with. To put simply, the core of his mind is hidden deep within the blanket of superficial definitions or 'thoughts' that encompasses the mind. There is a distinct separation of logic and understanding as the speaker articulates that this pasture that is 'folded in thought' resonates closely with his heart. The heart has emotional connotations which clash with the more logical connotations of 'thought' therefore in interpretation, it takes more than just mere 'logic' to understand one's mind, it takes a much more raw and emotional approach to understand the complexities of one's mind, and ultimately oneself. Inescapably one must understand in order to control. In the next few stanzas, Duncan recreates illogic through imagery to demonstrate the alternative ways in which the mind functions. The speaker defines the mind to be something created by “light” (6), which lends the mind to be something that is physically elusive. By having no physical substance, the mind is the manifestation of the figments of our mental creation, our imagination, a form that is so powerful, yet so invisible. In this place created of light “wherefrom the shadows are forms fall (7)” meaning forms of shadows fall in the place of light, the speaker alludes to the unrealistic aspect of our imaginations, where the forms of shadows fall, and not vice versa. The interestingly inverse phrasing of the speaker parallels the illogic and insanity that weaves the threads of our thoughts. How is it that form can fall from shadows, when it really should be shadows falling from forms. Even the syntactical choices of the author reflect this inverse form of logic by making the sentence structure seem choppy and logically incomprehensible to the reader. Duncan points out the potential of man falling into the pitfalls of insanity and darkness by inserting biblical allusions of Adam and Eve. Referencing back to the forms
derived from shadows, Duncan specifies those forms to be “architectures(8)” of which “I am (8)”. The architectures are now representative of humans. In which, architectures connotate to be sturdy and rigid, which is a social critique on behalf of Duncan into the sturdy and rigid mindset of humans, and because of that, their inflexibility leads them into their demise as they “fall (8)”. The fall indicates a fall into darkness, or rather insanity as Duncan connects that fall to the “likeness of the First Beloved (9)” which alludes to the myth of Adam and Eve falling from God's grace. Duncan refers to “she (10” who is Eve, as she is the “Queen under the Hill (10)”, the prestige of being 'Queen' overshadowed by her being 'Queen' 'under a hill' which ridicules the whole notion of royalty, and is meant to emphasize the insignificance and demeaning life that Eve led after she and Adam were banned from the perfect Garden of Eden. These references parallel the pitfalls a man suffers from through falling from his own good graces and into the depths of his own insanity. Within the Queen, she has “hosts that are a disturbance of words within words (12)”- the 'disturbances' explains the evasiveness of a mind being tainted and overpowered by madness. The encroachment of madness continues as Duncan uses allusions once again to focus the reader into a pivotal and climatic point in his poem as the reader sees that the pasture that was so close to his heart has the grass blowing against the source of the sun, against control and towards delirium. Duncan inserts that the sun blows “east against the source of the sun (15)” which once again is contradictory as the sun rises in the east and actually sets in the west. The way that the images are constructed in his mind are intentionally abstract and truly 'mind-bending', which illustrates the magnitude of power
that one's mind possesses. Its capability to go against the laws of nature itself, to put simply. Through Duncan's onslaught of inverse images and syntactical structures, the human psyche is sent into a whirlpool of encryption ever present in the poem. It is further supported by the mention of the cryptic “secret (16)” of “rings around the roses told (17)”, which on the surface is an innocent “children's (16)” game, but is actually a haunting melody to the almost apocalyptic events of the Black Death that swept through Europe. Through these historical allusions, Duncan establishes a somber mood as his mind steers away from the heavenly “place made of light” and towards the place where “the sun's going down (18)”. The symbolic nature of light losing to dark speaks to demonstrate a man compromising his sanity to insanity. It indicates a shift wherefrom the speaker possess no ability to control his mind, and thus this is why he is only “often permitted (20)” to return. In the last few stanzas of the poem, the line the speaker's own thoughts about the status of his own sanity is revealed.. Although he can only be often “permitted to return”, the meadow is a “given property (21)” meaning that it is only natural for one to traverse between the realms of balance and madness. Although the speaker struggles to control the state of his own sanity, there are “certain bounds held against chaos (22)” which is the state of “first permission (23)”- indicating that usually his mind works harmoniously, and he is sane, most of the time, however, one needs to be aware of the “everlasting omen of what is (24)” meaning one must be prepared for the repercussions of a mind gone mind. That where exists sanity, insanity always lingers in the shadows of the mind.