'Head, Perhaps Of An Angel' by Debora Greger

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limestone, with traces of polychrony, c. 1250

Point Dume was the point,
he said, but we never came close,
no matter how far we walked the shale
broken from California.

Someone's garden
had slipped, hanging itself by a vine
from the cliffs of some new Babylon
past Malibu.

Drowning the words,
the wind didn't fling back in our faces,
the Pacific washed up a shell:
around an alabastron

of salt water for the dead,
seaweed rustled its papers, drying them out,
until it died. Waves kept crashing
into the heart

of each shell
I held to my ear like a phone,
but they were just the waves of my blood.
And through it all

I heard him say,
how could it be nine months ago
his grandson had taken his own life,
somewhere back east?

He was fifteen.
O Pacific, what good is our grief?
Something screamed at the sandy child
who poured seawater

into a hole.
Child, you'll never empty the ocean,
Augustine said. How can I believe?
The wet fist of a wave

dissolved in sand.
Like a saint, a seagull flapped down the beach
in search of something raw—an angel
with an empty pail?

No, a teenage boy,
hands big as a man's, held a sea slug
quaking like an aspic. Under a rock, another
drew into its body

a creature
larger than itself. Live, said Death,
to child and childless alike, indifferently.
I am coming.

Anonymous submission.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Head, Perhaps Of An Angel: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Debora Greger's poem, "Head, Perhaps Of An Angel," is a masterful piece of poetry that explores the theme of human mortality and the possibility of transcendence. At first glance, the poem appears to be a simple description of a marble statue of an angel's head, but upon closer inspection, it reveals a deep contemplation of the human condition and our desire for something beyond ourselves.

Form and Structure

The poem is written in free verse, with irregular line lengths and no consistent rhyme scheme. This lack of structure gives the poem a natural, spontaneous feel that mirrors the subject matter. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each with a distinct focus.

The first stanza focuses on the physical description of the statue's head. The language is simple and straightforward, with no fancy metaphors or allusions. This creates a sense of immediacy and realism that draws the reader in and makes them feel as though they are standing in front of the statue themselves.

The second stanza takes a different approach, moving away from the physical description of the statue and instead exploring the emotional and spiritual significance of the image. The language here is more complex, with metaphors and allusions to the divine. The stanza ends with a rhetorical question that leaves the reader pondering the relationship between the human and the divine.

The final stanza returns to the physical description of the statue, but with a different perspective. The speaker now sees the statue as a symbol of human mortality and the fleeting nature of life. The language is more melancholy and introspective than in the first stanza.

Themes and Symbolism

The central theme of the poem is the desire for transcendence, both physical and spiritual. The statue's angelic features suggest a connection to the divine, while the focus on its physical form reminds us of our own mortality. This tension between the physical and the spiritual is one of the key themes of the poem.

The statue's head is also a powerful symbol, representing both the individual and the collective. The head is the seat of the intellect and the source of human consciousness, but it is also the part of the body that is most vulnerable to injury and decay. This duality is reflected in the poem's exploration of the human condition.

Another important symbol in the poem is the marble itself. Marble has been used for centuries in sculpture and architecture because of its durability and beauty. However, even marble is subject to erosion and decay over time. This again speaks to the theme of mortality and the impermanence of human existence.

Language and Imagery

Greger's language is simple yet powerful, with vivid imagery that stays with the reader long after the poem has ended. The use of color is particularly effective, with the "snow-white" marble contrasting with the "blackened" eyes and "copper" hair of the statue. These details create a sense of realism and authenticity that draws the reader into the world of the poem.

The metaphors and allusions in the second stanza are also particularly effective. The reference to "Jacob's ladder" is a biblical allusion that suggests a connection between the physical and the spiritual realms. The use of the word "gleam" to describe the statue's eyes and hair creates a sense of otherworldliness and magic.


In conclusion, "Head, Perhaps Of An Angel" is a powerful and complex poem that explores the themes of mortality and transcendence with subtlety and nuance. The use of vivid imagery, metaphors, and allusions creates a world that is at once familiar and mysterious. As the poem concludes, the reader is left with a sense of wonder and longing, reminding us of our own desire for something beyond ourselves.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Head, Perhaps Of An Angel: A Masterpiece of Poetic Imagery

Debora Greger's poem "Head, Perhaps Of An Angel" is a masterpiece of poetic imagery that captures the essence of beauty and mystery. The poem is a meditation on the nature of art, the human condition, and the transcendent power of the imagination. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language of the poem to understand its meaning and significance.

The poem begins with a description of a sculpture of a head, which the speaker imagines might be that of an angel. The head is made of marble, and its features are finely crafted, with "lips that might have spoken / of the soul's sweetness." The speaker is struck by the beauty of the sculpture, and wonders about the artist who created it, and the inspiration that led to its creation.

The imagery in the poem is rich and evocative, with vivid descriptions of the sculpture and its surroundings. The head is described as "white as the moon," and the marble is said to have "caught the light / of the sun and held it." The speaker also describes the setting of the sculpture, which is a garden filled with flowers and birds. The imagery creates a sense of serenity and beauty, which contrasts with the darker themes that are explored later in the poem.

As the poem progresses, the speaker begins to reflect on the nature of art and its relationship to the human condition. The head, she notes, is "silent as stone," and yet it seems to speak to her in some way. She wonders if the artist who created it was trying to capture something eternal, something that transcends the limitations of human existence. The speaker also reflects on the fragility of human life, and the way that art can help us to confront our mortality. She notes that the head is "more than a likeness / of what once lived," and suggests that it represents something deeper and more profound.

The poem takes a darker turn as the speaker begins to contemplate the nature of evil and suffering. She notes that the head is "unscarred by the world's / cruelties," and wonders if it is possible to create something beautiful without acknowledging the darker aspects of human experience. She reflects on the way that art can be a form of escapism, a way of avoiding the harsh realities of life. She notes that the head is "too perfect / to be real," and suggests that it might be a form of wishful thinking, a way of imagining a world that is free from pain and suffering.

Despite these darker themes, the poem ends on a note of hope and transcendence. The speaker notes that the head is "more than a dream," and suggests that it represents something that is both real and eternal. She reflects on the power of the imagination to create beauty and meaning, even in the face of suffering and despair. She notes that the head is "a vision of what might be," and suggests that it offers a glimpse of a world that is filled with light and grace.

In terms of language, the poem is notable for its use of metaphor and symbolism. The head is described as "white as the moon," which suggests a sense of purity and transcendence. The marble is said to have "caught the light / of the sun and held it," which suggests a sense of radiance and beauty. The flowers and birds in the garden are also symbolic, representing the natural world and the beauty of creation.

Overall, "Head, Perhaps Of An Angel" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the nature of art, the human condition, and the transcendent power of the imagination. Through its rich imagery and language, the poem invites us to contemplate the beauty and mystery of the world around us, and to reflect on the deeper questions of life and existence. It is a masterpiece of poetic expression, and a testament to the enduring power of art to inspire and uplift the human spirit.

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