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“Loneliness” and the Power of Memory Essay

All of life is part of a cycle of birth and rebirth, and nature tells us that with the passing of one life, a new one will blossom. In the poem “Loneliness,” Laura Cortes evokes the image of a harvest to reflect on how memories make one’s solitude in old age fruitful. The title of the poem introduces the reader to a bleak subject which immediately evokes images of darkness and isolation. Cortes continues these images in the first line of the poem, “inside a stone house in the mountains,” (1) which reinforces the idea of solitude.

The image of a stone house, stripped of warmth and life, resonates with loneliness that creeps in when one has been left behind by the people he loves. However, in the second line, Cortes uses an image that is contrary to what she initially evokes: “there is a unique and sweet smell” (2). And we find in this line a point of tension in the poem The man in “Loneliness,” is someone who is at the twilight of his life, a point in which his family has gone and all that remains are “ghosts and memories” (3) and “the cut apples, in boxes” (4).

The life of a man in this state is one that is lived in the solitude of memories. However, it is memories which make the man’s life meaningful. In the poem, he continues to tend the apple trees “he planted…forty summers ago” (6) because they hold the memory of his family, images of “…wonderful harvests/ with forty hands helping and carrying/with plenty and beautiful apples/with the young and united family smiling” (9-12). It is an image that “he would never leave…alone” (8) because through this memory he finds company, and the stone house becomes inhabitable and solitude bearable.

The poem tells of the power of memory to accompany us towards the end of our lives when everything that we have known has grown “tired and old” (14). It is this potency which gives the man hope in the face of his old age. Cortes tells us that loneliness surrounds old age, the kind that looms like darkness. But at the same time, she suggests that there is hope, not for the revival of past vigor or the return of those who have gone, but for meaning.

This meaning comes from the assurance that “the next harvest” (16) will arrive, attesting to the fact that life goes through a cycle. Cortes suggests in this line that life will continue in memory, and as long as the “stone house in the mountains” and the apple trees of “forty summers ago” remain, the memory—and the life it contains—will endure. The images of “stone” and “old trees” take a different meaning towards the end of poem because these images now evoke the endurance of memory.

It is clear that Cortes parallels the harvest of apples with the harvest of life. Both have definite beginnings and endings, and both are renewed. Seasons replenish the harvest as memory revives the past. This is the source of hope the man holds on to. In “Loneliness,” the speaker talks of a man’s loneliness, one that is privately healed by memories. Although there is nothing explicit in the poem which tells of the relationship of the speaker to the man, it may be said that the extent of loneliness depicted in the poem can only be felt and experienced personally.

Thus, despite the impersonal tone which the speaker takes on in the poem, it is not hard to relate him to the man he talks about to be the old man himself. Loneliness is a private matter which cannot be wholly shared, and the fact that we will inevitably face the end of our lives alone, makes old age a time of hopelessness. In Cortes’ poem, however, she refuses to accept this idea by drawing on the power of memory to renew hope that our life may be beyond death.


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