John Haines

Haines’ poem, “If the Owl Calls Again,” is a deceptively simple story of one who accompanies an owl on his nightly journey, but, like Dickinson’s similarly told “Because I could not stop for Death,” its use of metaphor, language, and its intensely introspective view, are habited in a non-self-conscious economy of language and form:

at dusk

from the island in the river,

and its not too cold,

I’ll wait for the moon

to rise,

and take wing and glide

to meet him.

We will not speak,

but hooded against the frost

soar above

the alder flats, searching

with tawny eyes . . .

The poem, like Dickinson’s poetry, is a compact interplay of metaphoric language.  Although Haines does not invoke Dickinson directly through use of similar rhyming or metric styles, he does, clearly, draw upon her sense of image and symbol.

“The island in the river,” for example, may mean both “any” island in “any” river, and a mythic island of the dead located mid-tide of the river Styx.  Haines work is also similar to Dickinson’s use of the “riddle” form, in which the author invokes the curiosity and contemplation of the reader.

Thus, questions such as “Too cold for what?” and “Who is the ‘him’ that the author awaits?” become significant to the interplay between author and reader and effect the interpretation of the poem.

It is a complex sign system which relies as much on surface meanings as it does on culturally shared mythology and literature.

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