Before the Leap In 2002, Brian Doyle, an editor for the Portland Magazine, wrote the critically acclaimed poem, “Leap”, in remembrance of the victims September 11th, 2001. Brian has also authored ten major books including The Grail, The Wet Engine, and the novel, Mink River. Doyle has written numerous essays and poems since 1999 including Credo, Saints Passionate & Peculiar, and Two Voices. Additionally, Doyle’s books have been finalists four times for the coveted Oregon Book Award and his essays have been featured in publications like The American Scholar, Harpers, and The Atlantic Monthly.
Upon reading the title of the poem, “Leap”, by hailed author, Brian Doyle, and considering the title of the section in the text book, “Faith and Doubt”, I was thinking the poem would, more or less, concern taking the proverbial “leap of faith”. I was wrong. The poem revolves around the actual physical action of one leaping out into the air, more specifically, those “jumpers” who consciously made the incredible decision to leap from the blazing conditions in the Twin Towers to their deaths on September 11th, 2001.
Doyle used a fair amount of imagery to add an incredible level of depth and to provide readers with a terrifying mental picture of that horrific day in America. Consider one of the opening lines describing the sight, “Many People Jumped. Perhaps hundreds. No one knows. They struck the pavement with such force that there was a pink mist in the air. ” (1168). Doyle effectively implemented figurative language throughout the poem to provide the full effect of being a shell-shocked, stunned bystander at the sight of 9/11.
Additionally, Doyle told of “A kindergarten boy who saw people falling in flames told his teacher that the birds were on fire. ” (1168). This use of imagery made me feel as though I was there. I believe the author used the “couple” in the poem to symbolize the strength of human resolve. As readers, we are unclear as to who they were, where they came from, or whether they even knew each other before they grasped each other’s hands as they leaped to their deaths far below, to escape the intense heat, toxic gases, and engulfing flames.
Doyle also made reference to different onlookers witnessing the “couple” as they leaped together, hand in hand. This was symbolic of the intense, far reaching, familiar pain shared by so many around the world as they watched the towers fall to rubble. Doyle also mentioned the couple’s hands quite a few times throughout the poem. I believe he intended the couple’s hands to be symbolic of the strength of the human bond, as well as, the courage that we gain, as humans, through our bonds. But he reached for her hand and she reached for his hand and they leaped out the window holding hands. ” (1169). The author successfully makes use of the first person point of view to place himself right there, as a witness of the tragic event, along with the others mentioned in the poem. Again, while he is in the first person, Doyle focuses on the clinched hands. He recalls, “but I kept coming back to his hand and her hand nestled in each other with such extraordinary ordinary succinct ancient naked stunning perfect simple ferocious love. ” (1169).
However, he too is unsure who the couple really is but he is intrigued by their hands, their bond, their strength, their agreement, and their courage to do, together, what has to be done. He mentions that, “Their hands reaching and joining are the most powerful prayer I can imagine. ” (1169). At the end of the poem, Doyle writes, “Jennifer Brickhouse saw them holding hands, and Stuart DeHann saw them holding hands, and I hold onto that. ” (1169). The author feels a sense of peace in knowing that the couple was witnessed by others. Their moment in time, their raw emotion, their true human characteristics took over and they leaped, together.
Doyle makes use of a powerful simile towards the end of the poem that compares humankind finding and accessing their inner greatness to, “seeds that open only under great fires”. (1169). He continues to describe our lives as they almost instantly decay into an unknown state, our most powerful, instinctive human traits surface and are focused with an extreme intensity, enabling us to overcome our fears and do what is required. Doyle writes, “to believe that some unimaginable essence of who we are persists past the dissolution of what we were, to believe against such evil hourly evidence that love is why we are here. ” (1169).
As a reader, my emotion compels me to believe the couple, possibly nothing more than strangers, at the brink of their inevitable dissolution, experienced the miracle of love, compassion, and bravery that are all intertwined throughout the complexity of our human nature. I think that the author used the simile, “like seeds that open only under great fires”, to describe the epic effect that our human spirit is able achieve in even the worst possible scenarios. After reading the through the entire poem more than a few times, I realize that the title, “Leap”, truly is about realizing the power of the bonds we share as human beings.
Even as our lives, in a complete state of disarray and chaos, are forced to come to an end, we are able to harness the miraculous strength of our bonds, and focus it in a way that allows us to achieve a sense of peace during our final moments. I believe the author intended for his readers to hope that the couple, in their final moments before they leaped into the “smoking canyon”, were able to experience this miracle and find that peace before they took the leap, together, into the unknown.