What The Bones Know, Carolyn Kizer – an Analysis


Wisdom of the subconscious or that which comes with age?

Gut Reaction
Hmm. I’m not so sure that understanding love gets easier with age but I’m game for a laugh.

What does it all mean?
The author thinks  that understanding love truly only comes with age (or at least experience).

Remembering the past
And gloating at it now,
Looking back on life and revelling in knowing best over your younger self. Hindsight being a beautiful thing and all that.

I know the frozen brow
And shaking sides of lust
Putting on a face to your potential lover? Pretending you feel nothing for someone when secretly all you want and all you think about is them – and it’s giving you the crazies (‘shaking sides of lust’)?

Will dog me at my death
To catch my ghostly breath.
Even on your death bed these thoughts will thwart you; will you look back with regret about not taking chances?

I think that Yeats was right,
Yay! Shout out for one of the Masters!

That lust and love are one.
Well, they can be. But you can lust without love, and I’m still unconvinced you can love someone (aside from a relative or friend obviously, that is a different love) without lust. So lust fuels love and love fuels lust and in that sense they are one and the same – but this isn’t always the case.

The body of this night
May beggar me to death,
Hmm. The thoughts or memories of an unrequited love is weighing heavily on the author’s mind in this moment, and she feels like it is plaguing her and will continue to plague her all her life? Is she worried she will live to regret it if she doesn’t take whatever action she is considering now?

But we are not undone
Who love with all our breath.
We are not undone. We… those of us who love passionately? We’re not crazy? Unhinged? Coming apart at the seams? Or we won’t be beaten by our feelings; we’ll continue on with our lives and try to pretend to the outside world that nothing of significance is going on in our heads. Or… we’re just not finished loving someone who doesn’t love us back and despite knowing we should, we can’t?

I know that Proust was wrong,
Uh oh…

His wheeze: love, to survive,
Needs jealousy, and death
And lust, to make it strong
Or goose it back alive.
His ‘wheeze’… his… preamble? Final words? Nonsensical opinion? Is she being dismissive of his reasoning?
He says that if love is going to remain then it needs to be strengthened by some good sinning!
You know. As well as death (clearly not a sin… or is it?), jealousy and lust will keep your passion alive for someone and therefore your love for them? Or rekindle it (‘goose’) when it’s gone? I don’t know. How many couples do you honestly know who have the longevity and the passion?

Proust took away my breath.
He took the words right out of my mouth or he astounded me to silence with his attitude?

The later Yeats was right
To think of sex and death
And nothing else. Why wait
Yeats had a two-tracked mind! Well. Yes. I suppose that is fair, seems to me that the main body of his work was precisely that.
Is it really the best way to spend your life just thinking about these two things? Surely ‘doing’ rather than just ‘thinking’ about at least one of them is going to make life a little… more… interesting?
I think she means… enjoy life while you have it.

(Why wait) Till we are turning old?
So is she saying we should act ‘now’? Not put off our feelings until some magical ‘later’ when our worlds are perfect? Why wait until we’re old to attempt to figure things out?
It feels here like Kizer is saying ‘Oi! You! You there, dithering and procrastinating in the corner! Stop moping, start doing! Act now!’
I have no idea… but suddenly I feel very guilty!

My thoughts are hot and cold.
I do not waste my breath.
She keeps changing her mind but when she speaks she does so with truth, at least in that moment; no one can mistake her meaning or misinterpret what she says?

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
Four indented stanzas of six lines

Irony hidden in a lighthearted shell?

Suggested rhyme scheme

Similes and metaphors
Took away my breath – stole my words or made me speechless?
Wheeze – diatribe, nonsensical ideas?
Ghostly breath – final breath
Goose – rekindle?

Author’s relationship with their subject
Ironic, jesting, witty, determined (I will not waste my life on this and will take action?)

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
I like the idea that, as Kizer says, the reason we never say what we really mean is because at heart, we are all poets and wanting people to interpret our words, to really understand us. So the next time I am confusing someone with my words at least I will have an excuse!

Signing off
I am a fan. I think poetry can take itself far too seriously and this poem is an example that shows that you can still make your audience have to think and decipher your every word, without necessarily using traditional poetical language.
This feels like a ‘bull by the horns’ statement – either the author to herself or to us, her empathetic reader. If you are harbouring a secret love for someone, then bloody well do something about it! Life is too short!
And over here, in procrastination corner, we have our arguments at the ready. ‘Ah,’ we say, ‘but it’s complicated.’ Pah. When isn’t life complicated?
I’d duck right about now if I were you. I’ve a feeling Kizer has spotted us lurking over here and she’s about to lob a cushion our way..

Carolyn Kizer

e notes

When I read this I think of the song… I Can’t Make You Love Me


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