The “Kubota Garden” Poem by Patricia Clark
Modern American poets’ works are filled with poetic allegories and metaphors, but it may seem that their poems have not been thoroughly studied yet. The complexity of poetic images sets the problem of their interpretation, which requires deep analysis of poetry. Being an example of a modern and symbolic poem, Patricia Clark’s Kubota Garden is of great interest to researchers. The piece might be considered a landscape poem dedicated to a garden’s beauty, but the richness of symbols and variety of syntactic structures make its meaning much deeper.
Kubota Garden is a Japanese garden with terraces, ponds, and rare plants. Depicting its beauty, the author conveys her ideas through the metaphoric images of flowers and water. Despite the relatively small format, the analytical vista of the images in Kubota Garden is enormous. The central themes of the poem are farewell and the transience of life. The heroine describes the beauty of the park, and the lyrical tonality of the piece tells the reader that it is about goodbye. At the same time, the poem is filled with tranquility and readiness to accept the unpredictability of fate. Moreover, although the poem’s leitmotif is primarily the sadness of goodbye, the motif of power and energy can serve as evidence of the heroine’s optimistic mood. In the form of free verse, the poem demonstrates finesse and flexibility throughout the text, changes its rhythm while maintaining the central lyrical attitude.
Poems are written with vague phrases and limited word count, which resulted in poets being forced to rely on other elements to convey their ideas. It actualizes the necessity of analyzing the structure, sounds, and images of a poem in order to understand its meaning. Given that, the analysis of the metaphors, construction, and various poetic techniques utilized in the Kubota Garden seems to be indispensable for the poem’s comprehension.
Firstly, with regard to the structure, the poem includes nine stanzas and is not divided into parts, which could be regarded as thematically different from each other. The author first describes his desires, which relate to the material world (“to see the teahouse,” “to study Japanese maples”). Still, the following stanzas depict intangible phenomena (“to bow my head to chance”). The poem’s structure and rhythm vary within the text due to diverse poetic techniques, such as parallelism and metaphors. The changeability of the poem reflects the inconstancy of life itself, which is conveyed not only through metaphors but also through sound techniques and changes in structural features.
The words “I wanted” are repeated throughout the beginning, which makes parallelism in the structure of the work evident. The author uses this element throughout several stanzas, focusing the reader’s attention on unfulfilled desires. The poem’s lyrical tone produces a sharp emotional reaction and might make the reader think about the heroine’s fate. In the fourth stanza, the author breaks parallelism and introduces a picture filled with sounds (“we heard workmen building a road”) and symbolic images (“a jet scrawled a contrail note of farewell”). An abrupt change in the syntactic structure inevitably highlights these lines and leads to changing the reader’s attention. In other words, a sudden alteration of perspective produces an immediate emotional response.
Moreover, the fourth stanza includes three lines, and the last stanza only one, whereas others consist of two. This structural characteristic not only emphasizes these stanzas but also affects the rhythm of the poem. The most extended verse slows down the rhythm, which provides an opportunity to focus on the sounds and pictures described in the middle. The last one is the shortest, which creates, on the one hand, a feeling of incompleteness and, on the other hand, makes an emphasis on the last words. The lyrical heroine claims: “letting it sound and then be still.” It suggests that sounds, the primary stress on which was put in the middle, fade in the end. Thus, it can be said that Clark creates a sense of rhythm through the repetition of some elements and resize of stanzas.
Secondly, the images themselves could make evident some aspects of the meaning. With regard to poetry analysis, some key features of allegory should be mentioned. The notion of allegory implies the representation of any concepts and ideas through other images and figures. Central metaphors and images are projected into the string of the poem, which generates “the logic that organizes the overall shape” of the text (Golston 6). To outline the main images, it seems convenient to group them and identify the prominent motifs.
One of the most repetitive points is the image of water and liquid (“the teahouse,” “a bridge arching over water,” “the pond”), conveying the idea of inconstancy. This motif is suitable for the theme of farewell, which prevails in the lyric heroine’s mood. According to the text, she wants to take pictures for memory, and there are many past tense verbs in the poem (“wanted,” “led,” “heard”). It is time to say goodbye to the beautiful Japanese garden, and thoughts about the transience of life make the heroine turn her ideas towards inconstant water. That might be the reason why she recalls her mother while kneeled at the pond (“how like my mother I’ve become”). Another significant image developed in the poem is a road (“workmen building a road,” airplane footprint), which symbolizes the path of life.
Although the action takes place in a garden, the images of plants and colors are also highly symbolic and play a significant role in conveying the author’s ideas. Representing the calmness and peace of the elements and the world, Japanese maples share the lyrical heroine’s readiness to accept the transience of life. Hydrangeas might be regarded as a symbol of calmness and peace, which also supports the idea mentioned earlier. The two groups represent the colors in Kubota Garden. Pink and purple combine calmness and expression, which correlates with the themes presented by plants. On the other hand, the narration is filled with yellow and orange (“fiery leaves,” a lantern, the sun), which are closely connected with the concepts of energy and the power of life.
The dualism that can be called “calmness – dynamism” is expressed throughout the whole poem. “Fiery leaves” appears next to the maple, the symbol of tranquility; stones and a wall, symbolizing static existence, stand in a row with a luminous lantern. After the thoughts of the sun, the lyric heroine thinks of the fading of the sound. Thus, the sadness of farewell becomes inextricably linked with optimism in the soul of a lyrical heroine. The future looks bright, and, as a consequence, farewell to the beautiful garden does not bring much sorrow. The author, on the contrary, speaks about the necessity to understand the instability of the world. If this is accepted, then nothing, even separation from something genuinely astonishing, can kill the hope in a human.
Concerning sounds, the poem represents the example of assonance, which implies the repetition of the vowels closed to each other in words (“see the teahouse,” “over water,” Japanese and leaves). This poetic technique creates a certain mood, making vowels more mellow and the poem itself more measured and melodic. The notion of euphony, which is also utilized in the poem, is closely related to assonance. Euphony arises when long vowels (teahouse, stones, kneel) or soft consonants (road, purple, farewell) are mainly used. In contrast to harsh sounds of cacophony, expressing the pressure and anguish, the harmony of soft sounds is pleasant to the ears and soothes.
Anaphora is also presented in the text: the repetition of the clause “I wanted” was regarded above concerning its influence on the structure. However, considered as an anaphora, this clause creates a rhythm and makes lines more memorable. Moreover, anaphora is simultaneously a technique that conveys a symbolic meaning. This repetition creates a feeling of duplication, reminding of the cyclical nature of every life event. In the context of the farewell’s central theme, this claims the cyclicality of life and willingness to accept the end of something beautiful easily.
Concerning sound poetic techniques, it is essential to mention that the author uses enjambment. It appears when the sentence is not finished in the line and continues in the next stanza. Thus, words “pink” and “purple,” relating to hydrangeas, and words “bell” and “at the gate,” representing one semantic unity, are placed in different verses. Lines with enjambment seem to be incomplete, and the theme started in verse six continues in the seventh and runs over into the eighth. As a consequence, although the opening stanzas were relatively isolated and were separate sketches of landscapes, at the end of the poem, there is a boost in the rhythm. Individual scenes merge into one, like small streams flow into a large river, creating an image of our life as one large river.
Kubota garden is a free verse, deprived of a single rhythm, meter, and strict structure. The lack of severe form gives the author an opportunity to create different atmospheres within the poem. As it was mentioned above, it begins chaotic and continues free-flowing, highlighting individual lines and words. Making sentences “float free” gives each of them “perceptional vividness” that “preserves its sense from assimilation into a higher-order” (Bruns 98). Thus, free verse allows highlighting individual stanzas, endowing them with peculiar meaning, and tightens some lines into a narrative.
To conclude, the main themes of the poem are the separation and the transience of life. Beneath the farewell to the beautiful Japanese garden lies a profound metaphor for the impermanence of life, and Clark’s poetic techniques work to express this meaning. Kubota garden is composed in free verse, which allows changing the rhythm and structure throughout the text. The poem is full of symbolic images; the presented colors convey calmness and energy at the same time. Sound techniques represent tranquility and affect the change in rhythm. Despite that the central theme is farewell, the poem is abundant with optimism and proclaims readiness to accept the fickleness of life. Thus, the Patricia Clark’s poem is a layered metaphorical peace, a perfect example of modern American lyric poetry.
Bruns, Gerald. Interruptions: The Fragmentary Aesthetic in Modern Literature. University of Alabama Press, 2018.
Golston, Michael. Poetic Machinations: Allegory, Surrealism, and Postmodern Poetic Form. Columbia University Press, 2015.