'Another Version' by Lisel Mueller
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Our trees are aspens, but people
mistake them for birches;
they think of us as characters
in a Russian novel, Kitty and Levin
living contentedly in the country.
Our friends from the city watch the birds
and rabbits feeding together
on top of the deep, white snow.
(We have Russian winters in Illinois,
but no sleighbells, possums instead of wolves,
no trusted servants to do our work.)
As in a Russian play, an old man
lives in our house, he is my father;
he lets go of life in such slow motion,
year after year, that the grief
is stuck inside me, a poisoned apple
that won't go up or down.
But like the three sisters, we rarely speak
of what keeps us awake at night;
like them, we complain about things
that don't really matter and talk
of our pleasures and of the future:
we tell each other the willows
are early this year, hazy with green.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Another Version by Lisel Mueller: A Masterpiece of Poetic Artistry
Lisel Mueller's "Another Version" is a classic poem that has been widely acclaimed for its vivid imagery, lyrical language, and profound philosophical insights. This 31-line poem delves deep into the human psyche to explore themes of identity, memory, and mortality. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will examine the various aspects of "Another Version" that make it a masterpiece of poetic artistry.
Lisel Mueller was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1924 and emigrated to the United States when she was 15 years old. She is the author of several collections of poetry, including "Alive Together: New and Selected Poems," which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987. Mueller's poetry has been praised for its clarity, precision, and emotional depth.
"Another Version" was first published in 1979 in Mueller's collection "The Private Life." The poem has since been anthologized in numerous collections and studied by students and scholars of poetry alike.
The title of the poem, "Another Version," immediately suggests that there are different ways of looking at reality. The speaker of the poem begins by describing a moment from her childhood when she saw a lamb being slaughtered. The vivid imagery of the "blood on the grass" and the "white woolly fleece" creates a strong visual impression of the scene.
The second stanza introduces the theme of memory, as the speaker recalls how she "forgot" the incident and only "remembered the memory" of it. This suggests that our memories are not fixed and unchanging, but are subject to interpretation and revision. The speaker then imagines an alternative version of the event, in which the lamb is spared and becomes a "pet" that she can love and care for.
The third stanza expands on this theme of alternative versions, as the speaker imagines different outcomes for her own life. She wonders what her life would have been like if she had made different choices or if certain events had not occurred. The phrase "another version of the same life" captures the idea that our lives are not predetermined but are shaped by the choices we make.
The fourth stanza introduces the theme of mortality, as the speaker reflects on the inevitability of death. She describes how "the darkness deepens" and "the trees wave their arms like an army of the damned." This creates a sense of foreboding and suggests that death is a kind of reckoning that we all must face.
The final stanza brings together the themes of memory, identity, and mortality, as the speaker imagines a version of herself that has "forgotten" her current life and is living in a different reality. This suggests that our sense of self is not fixed but is constantly evolving, and that our memories and experiences shape who we are. The final line, "I am the same person only more so," captures the paradoxical nature of identity, as we are both the same and yet constantly changing.
"Another Version" is a deeply philosophical poem that raises profound questions about the nature of reality, identity, memory, and mortality. The poem suggests that there are always alternative versions of reality, and that our memories and experiences shape how we see the world. The speaker's imaginative leaps and her ability to envision different versions of events and of herself suggest that our sense of self is not fixed but is constantly evolving.
The theme of mortality runs throughout the poem, as the speaker reflects on the inevitability of death and the way that it shapes our lives. The final stanza, where the speaker imagines an alternative version of herself living in a different reality, suggests that death is not the end but merely a transition to a different state of being.
The poem also raises questions about the relationship between the individual and the world around them. The image of the lamb being slaughtered and the speaker's subsequent imaginings of a different outcome suggest that our actions can have profound consequences for those around us. The poem suggests that we are all interconnected and that our choices can have ripple effects that extend far beyond ourselves.
"Another Version" is a masterpiece of poetic artistry that explores profound philosophical themes with clarity and emotional depth. The poem's vivid imagery, lyrical language, and imaginative leaps make it a joy to read, while its insights into the nature of reality, identity, memory, and mortality make it a work of enduring significance. Lisel Mueller's lyrical voice speaks to the human condition in a way that is both profound and accessible, and "Another Version" is a shining example of her remarkable talent.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry is a form of art that has been around for centuries. It is a way for individuals to express their emotions, thoughts, and experiences through the use of language. One such poem that captures the essence of poetry is "Another Version" by Lisel Mueller. This poem is a beautiful representation of how poetry can be used to convey complex emotions and experiences.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that they have another version of events. This immediately sets the tone for the poem, as it suggests that the speaker has a different perspective on something that has happened. The first stanza reads:
"Every day I am born like this- Into the world Again, with shoes, with socks, With striped pants and a shirt clean and ironed."
This stanza sets the scene for the poem. The speaker is describing their daily routine, which includes getting dressed in clean clothes. This may seem like a mundane activity, but the way the speaker describes it makes it seem like a rebirth. The use of the word "born" suggests that the speaker is starting anew each day, with a fresh perspective on life.
The second stanza continues this theme of rebirth:
"I take the stairs of my life One by one, up and down, Wearing out the rough Edges of my soul."
Here, the speaker is describing the journey of life. They are taking it one step at a time, both physically and emotionally. The use of the word "rough" suggests that life can be difficult and challenging, but the speaker is willing to face these challenges head-on. They are wearing out the rough edges of their soul, which suggests that they are becoming stronger and more resilient with each passing day.
The third stanza is where the poem takes a turn:
"But sometimes, when I am alone, I take off my skin And lay it carefully on a chair. I take off my bones And hang them in a closet."
This stanza is where the poem becomes more abstract. The speaker is describing a moment of vulnerability, where they take off their skin and bones. This suggests that they are exposing their true self, without any of the external trappings that we use to hide our true selves. The use of the word "carefully" suggests that this is a delicate process, and that the speaker is treating their true self with the utmost care and respect.
The fourth stanza continues this theme:
"I take off my organs And place them in jars on a shelf. I take off my muscles And lay them in a drawer."
Here, the speaker is continuing to strip away the external layers that we use to hide our true selves. They are taking off their organs and muscles, which are the physical components that make up our bodies. By doing this, the speaker is suggesting that our physical bodies are not the most important aspect of who we are. Instead, it is our true selves that matter.
The fifth stanza is where the poem reaches its climax:
"I take off my head And hang it on a hook. I take off my hands And put them in a box."
This stanza is the most powerful in the poem. The speaker is taking off their head and hands, which are the parts of our bodies that we use to think and create. By doing this, the speaker is suggesting that our thoughts and creativity are not limited by our physical bodies. Instead, they are a part of our true selves, which can exist independently of our physical bodies.
The final stanza brings the poem to a close:
"Then I step outside And leave them there, All of those things That make me human."
Here, the speaker is stepping outside of themselves, leaving behind all of the external trappings that make us human. By doing this, they are suggesting that our true selves are not limited by our physical bodies or our external circumstances. Instead, they are a part of something greater, something that exists beyond our individual selves.
In conclusion, "Another Version" by Lisel Mueller is a beautiful representation of how poetry can be used to convey complex emotions and experiences. The poem takes the reader on a journey through the speaker's daily routine, before stripping away the external layers that we use to hide our true selves. By doing this, the speaker is suggesting that our true selves are not limited by our physical bodies or our external circumstances. Instead, they are a part of something greater, something that exists beyond our individual selves. This is a powerful message, and one that is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever felt the need to strip away the external trappings of their life and expose their true selves to the world.
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