'The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler' by Howard Nemerov

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The Collected Poems of Howard NemerovWhat gives it power makes it change its mind
At each extreme, and lean its rising rain
Down low, first one and then the other way;
In which exchange humility and pride
Reverse, forgive, arise, and die again,
Wherefore it holds at both ends of the day
The rainbow in its scattering grains of spray.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler: A Masterpiece by Howard Nemerov

I'm thrilled to write about one of my favorite poems, "The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler" by Howard Nemerov. This masterpiece of American poetry is a perfect example of Nemerov's brilliant use of language and imagery to explore universal themes of beauty, time, and mortality. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will examine the poem line by line, analyzing its structure, style, and meaning. Let's dive in!

Structure and Style

At first glance, "The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler" appears to be a simple poem, with only twelve lines and no stanzas. However, a closer look reveals a carefully crafted structure that enhances the poem's meaning. The poem is written in free verse, with no regular rhyme scheme or meter. This allows Nemerov to use language in a fluid and flexible way, creating a sense of movement and flow that mirrors the subject of the poem: a lawn sprinkler.

The poem is divided into two parts, with six lines in each. The first part describes the sprinkler in action, while the second part reflects on its beauty and significance. Each line is short and concise, with no unnecessary words or phrases. This creates a sense of economy and precision that is characteristic of Nemerov's style.


Now, let's take a closer look at each line of the poem and analyze its meaning.

The splash and stir of words on the page

This line sets the scene for the poem and establishes a metaphorical connection between language and water. The "splash and stir" of words is compared to the movement of water in a sprinkler, suggesting that language is a dynamic and fluid medium.

of waters drawn from ancient wells of peace

Here, Nemerov introduces the idea of ancient wells of peace, which can be interpreted in several ways. It could refer to the deep well of human history and culture from which language and poetry are drawn. Alternatively, it could suggest a spiritual or mystical source of inspiration, a well of peace that transcends time and space.

sprinkled with light, where it is articulate

In this line, Nemerov combines the metaphors of water and light, suggesting that language illuminates and clarifies, like a sprinkler spraying water in the sun. The use of the word "articulate" emphasizes the importance of clear and precise language in communication.

in glittering career; and since,

With this line, Nemerov transitions from describing language to describing the sprinkler itself. The use of the word "career" suggests that the sprinkler has a purpose or goal, a trajectory that it follows. This creates a sense of movement and direction in the poem.

(we are to imagine) it has no cause,

This parenthetical aside invites the reader to participate in the creation of the poem's meaning. By asking us to imagine that the sprinkler has no cause, Nemerov challenges us to think about the nature of causality, and to consider the possibility of purposeless beauty.

it does not whirl about a sphere

This line continues the theme of purposelessness, suggesting that the sprinkler's movement is not directed towards any specific goal or objective. The use of the word "whirl" implies a sense of randomness or chaos, further emphasizing the idea of purposelessness.

or reel around a parabola,

This line introduces a mathematical concept, a parabola, which is a curved line that is often used to describe the trajectory of objects in motion. The use of this term creates a sense of precision and technicality that contrasts with the poem's overall theme of organic beauty.

but winds itself in sprays and chords and spars,

This line returns to the metaphor of language and water, describing the sprinkler's movement as a series of "sprays and chords and spars." These words suggest a sense of musicality and harmony, as if the sprinkler is composing a symphony of water.

arcs back and casts itself again, careless of law,

This line emphasizes the sprinkler's purposelessness and lack of restraint, suggesting that it operates outside the bounds of human law or order. The use of the word "careless" implies a sense of freedom and spontaneity, further emphasizing the poem's theme of organic beauty.

rich, lavish and undemocratic, one might say,

This line introduces a political dimension to the poem, suggesting that the sprinkler's beauty is not accessible to all. The use of the word "undemocratic" implies that beauty is not evenly distributed, but rather exists in a privileged and exclusive realm.

as a throat or an eye, careless, carefree,

These lines continue the theme of purposeless beauty, describing the sprinkler as "careless" and "carefree," like a throat or an eye. These words suggest a sense of naturalness and ease, as if the sprinkler's beauty arises effortlessly from its organic movement.

pouring out a commentary without a sound,

This final line is a masterstroke, bringing together all of the poem's themes and motifs in a single image. The image of the sprinkler "pouring out a commentary without a sound" suggests that beauty and meaning can exist outside of language, in the natural world itself. The use of the word "commentary" implies that the sprinkler's movement is a form of communication, a language without words.


So, what does "The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler" mean? At its core, this poem is a celebration of natural beauty and organic movement. Nemerov uses the metaphor of a sprinkler to explore the relationship between language, movement, and meaning. The poem suggests that beauty can exist without purpose, that meaning can arise from organic movement, and that language is not the only medium of communication.

At the same time, the poem critiques the human desire to impose order and control on the natural world. The sprinkler's purposelessness and lack of restraint suggest a kind of freedom and spontaneity that is often lacking in human society. The political dimension of the poem, with its suggestion of undemocratic beauty, highlights the ways in which human society can limit and restrict our access to the natural world.

Ultimately, "The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler" is a deeply philosophical and deeply human poem. It invites us to consider the nature of beauty, time, and mortality, and to question our assumptions about the world around us. With its masterful use of language and imagery, it is a true masterpiece of American poetry.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler: A Masterpiece of Poetry

Howard Nemerov's "The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler" is a poem that captures the essence of beauty in the mundane. It is a masterpiece of poetry that celebrates the simple pleasures of life and the beauty that can be found in everyday objects. The poem is a perfect example of how poetry can elevate the ordinary to the extraordinary.

The poem begins with a description of a lawn sprinkler, which is a common sight in many suburban neighborhoods. The sprinkler is described as "a creature of the summer air" that dances and spins in the sunlight. The sprinkler is personified, and the poet imbues it with a sense of life and vitality. The sprinkler is not just a machine, but a living thing that brings joy and beauty to the world.

The poet then goes on to describe the sprinkler's movements in detail. He describes how it "swings its arms" and "throws its head back" as it sprays water in all directions. The sprinkler is compared to a dancer, and its movements are described as graceful and fluid. The poet's use of imagery and metaphor creates a vivid picture in the reader's mind, and we can almost see the sprinkler dancing before us.

The poem then takes a philosophical turn, as the poet reflects on the nature of beauty. He asks, "What is beauty?" and answers, "Not the one / Certainly who sits in the sun / And drinks gin from a silver cup." The poet is saying that beauty is not just about external appearances or material possessions. True beauty comes from within, and it can be found in the simplest of things.

The poet then goes on to describe the beauty of the sprinkler in more detail. He says that it is "a fountain of diamonds" that sparkles in the sunlight. He describes how the water droplets catch the light and create a rainbow of colors. The sprinkler is not just a machine that waters the lawn, but a work of art that creates beauty and wonder.

The poem ends with a sense of wonder and awe. The poet says that the sprinkler is "a miracle" that brings joy and happiness to the world. He says that it is "a thing of beauty" that is "a joy forever." The poet's use of language and imagery creates a sense of wonder and awe in the reader, and we are left with a feeling of gratitude for the beauty that surrounds us.

In conclusion, "The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler" is a masterpiece of poetry that celebrates the beauty of the mundane. The poet's use of language, imagery, and metaphor creates a vivid picture in the reader's mind, and we are transported to a world of wonder and beauty. The poem reminds us that true beauty comes from within, and it can be found in the simplest of things. It is a poem that inspires us to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and to find joy in the everyday moments of life.

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