'The Yoke' by Frank Bidart

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don't worry I know you're dead
but tonight

turn your face again
toward me

when I hear your voice there is now
no direction in which to turn

I sleep and wake and sleep and wake and sleep and wake and

but tonight
turn your face again

toward me

see upon my shoulders is the yoke
that is not a yoke

don't worry I know you're dead
but tonight

turn your face again

Anonymous submission.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Yoke by Frank Bidart: A Masterpiece of Enigmatic Poetry

Are you familiar with the feeling of being completely lost in a poem, feeling like you understand nothing and everything at the same time? That's how I felt when I first read "The Yoke" by Frank Bidart. This enigmatic masterpiece of modern poetry is a true challenge for any reader, but once you start deciphering its layers of meaning, you will be rewarded with a profound meditation on the human experience.

The Poem's Structure and Style

Before we dive into the poem's meaning, let's take a look at its structure and style. "The Yoke" consists of twenty-six stanzas, each of them containing two or three lines. The poem is written in free verse, without any strict rhyme or meter. However, Bidart's language is highly controlled and precise, with a lot of repetition, alliteration, and parallel structures.

The poem's title, "The Yoke," immediately suggests a metaphorical meaning. A yoke is a wooden beam that connects two oxen or other draft animals, forcing them to work together and share the burden. In the poem, the yoke is both a symbol of bondage and a means of connection, a paradoxical image that reflects the human condition.

The Themes of Bondage and Connection

Indeed, the two main themes of "The Yoke" are bondage and connection. The poem speaks of a speaker who is divided, pulled in different directions by conflicting desires and fears. On the one hand, the speaker is drawn to darkness, to the forces of chaos and destruction that threaten to engulf him:

The darkness I inhabit is a place of stone and sand. The darkness I inhabit is a clotted silence.

On the other hand, the speaker longs for light, for the possibility of transcendence and redemption:

I am not sure I will ever escape the light for which I long, the darkness I love.

This tension between darkness and light, between bondage and freedom, is expressed through a series of vivid and often violent images. Bidart's language is visceral, full of blood and flesh and bones:

My heart is explosive, it beats too loud and too fast; if I loved a woman she would have to play dead.

I saw the head of the man I loved blown off; I kissed him as it exploded.

The boy I loved drowned in a stream; as he struggled the water quivered and wept.

These images are not meant to shock or titillate, but to convey the intensity of the speaker's emotions, the gravity of his situation. The speaker is not a passive victim, but an active participant in his own suffering, a fact that is both empowering and terrifying.

The Poem's Use of Mythology and Religion

To understand the full scope of "The Yoke," it's important to look at its use of mythology and religion. The poem is peppered with references to biblical stories, Greek myths, and other cultural touchstones. For example, in one stanza, the speaker compares himself to the Greek hero Achilles, who was vulnerable only in his heel:

I am as vulnerable as Achilles, but I don't have a heel.

In another stanza, the speaker invokes the image of the Garden of Eden, suggesting that he is both Adam and Eve:

I am the serpent who gave the fruit to Adam and Eve; I am Adam and Eve.

These references add an extra layer of meaning to the poem, inviting us to see the speaker as a representative of all humanity, struggling with the same conflicts and impulses that have plagued us since the dawn of time.

The Poem's Final Stanza

Finally, let's look at the poem's final stanza, which is both mysterious and haunting:

What kind of animal are you, and what is your yoke? You are not what you think you are.

This stanza is a challenge to the reader, an invitation to reflect on our own identities and limitations. What kind of animal are we, and what is our yoke? What are the forces that bind us, and how can we overcome them?

In the end, "The Yoke" is a poem about the human condition, about the struggle to find meaning and purpose in a world that can be both beautiful and cruel. It is a poem that rewards careful reading, that demands our attention and our engagement. And it is a poem that reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering, that we are all connected by the same yoke.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Yoke: An Analysis of Frank Bidart's Classic Poem

Frank Bidart's "The Yoke" is a classic poem that has captivated readers for decades. The poem is a powerful exploration of the human condition, and it delves deep into the themes of love, loss, and the search for identity. In this analysis, we will take a closer look at the poem and explore its meaning and significance.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a scene in which he is walking through a field. He sees a yoke lying on the ground, and he is immediately struck by its weight and the burden it represents. The yoke is a symbol of the burdens we carry in life, and it represents the struggles we face as we try to find our place in the world.

As the poem progresses, the speaker reflects on his own life and the burdens he has carried. He speaks of his desire to be loved and accepted, and his fear of rejection and abandonment. He also speaks of his struggle to find his own identity, and his fear of losing himself in the process.

The poem is filled with powerful imagery and metaphors that help to convey its meaning. For example, the yoke is described as "a wooden collar / that kept two oxen / from wandering apart." This metaphor highlights the idea that we are all connected, and that we need each other to survive. It also suggests that we are all bound by the same struggles and burdens, and that we must work together to overcome them.

Another powerful metaphor in the poem is the image of the speaker as a "pilgrim." This metaphor suggests that the speaker is on a journey, and that he is searching for something. It also suggests that the journey is difficult and that the speaker is facing many challenges along the way.

The poem also explores the theme of love and the search for connection. The speaker speaks of his desire to be loved and accepted, and his fear of rejection and abandonment. He also speaks of the pain of losing someone he loves, and the struggle to move on from that loss.

One of the most powerful lines in the poem is when the speaker says, "I am the one who loved you / until I saw the blood." This line is a powerful metaphor for the pain of love and the fear of loss. It suggests that love is not always easy, and that it can be painful and difficult to navigate.

Overall, "The Yoke" is a powerful and moving poem that explores the human condition in a profound way. It is a poem that speaks to the struggles we all face in life, and it offers a message of hope and resilience in the face of adversity. It is a poem that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

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