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Robert Gray Diptych Essay

Through Robert Gray’s poems Diptych and Late Ferry I have learnt that recalling past events and uncovering a new truth or element to them can inspire discoveries. These recollections are evoked through the nostalgia shown by the speakers in each poem. Although the poems differ in the sense that one speaker purposely remembers the past, as opposed to the other persona that only thinks of the past because they are looking with fear into the future, both poems still illustrate that discoveries can be made through retrospect. In Diptych, Gray (the speaker) is reminiscing about his childhood and his parents, and by doing this he begins to have a better understanding of them. Whereas, in Late Ferry the speaker is watching the demise of warmth associated with earlier times, by looking at a ferry leaving port and venturing into the unknown. Through Gray’s use of various techniques including; sensory imagery, tone and the plurality shown through his preference for similes, he furthered my understanding of the concept of discovery.

In Diptych, Gray explores the concept of discovery through his recollections of his parents, the catalyst for this was the nostalgia for past experiences. The message I believe Gray is conveying through his didactic writing is that relationships are an integral part of discovery. The realization that Gray comes to at the end of the poem is that he judged his parents too harshly and that they were doing as best as they could. Gray uses the idea of the diptych (the two panels joined together by a hinge or clasp and linked through a common idea or theme) as the inspiration for the form. The effect of this is to present the portraits of both his parents separately and to compare and contrast his feelings towards both of them. The first words of his poem “My mother” uses a possessive pronoun and alliteration to indicate the personal level that this poem operates on. Gray intends this to create a connection to his audience and himself. Gray uses similes in his poems to present the plurality of his imagery and this is intended to help the reader understand Gray’s relationship with his parents and his feelings towards them.

In Diptych Gray paints the portrait of his mother emphasizing her caring nature, this is evident when he states “Her care you could watch reappear like the edge of tidal water in salt flats”, this simile particularly illustrates his mother’s resurging, caring attitude in a visual image, which shows how Gray uses similes in order to better his audiences understanding of abstract ideas. Gray’s use of anecdote directly after this simile highlights the fact that he engages the reader through non-abstract ideas. Gray further proves his mother’s protective instincts by claiming “It was this made her drive out the neighbor’s bull fro our garden with a broom”, she did this to protect “her seedlings”. I believe that this anecdote is a metaphor and that “her seedlings” actually refers to Gray himself and his mother’s protective nature over him. Gray slowly begins to understand his mother’s attitude was just her way of showing her incorruptible care for him.

This leads him to discover that his mother was doing the best she could for him, however this realization differs to the one Gray has regarding his father. Gray describes his father as being “a drunkard”, a pathetic loner when Gray stated he “often drank alone” and even a racist and misogynist when Gray claimed he read “Nothing by New York Jews; nothing by women, especially the French”. Despite all this atrocious qualities Gray still says “I had long accepted him…he’d given me, shown me, the best advice”. Gray uses his conversational tone and language throughout the poem to mimic a stream of consciousness. The tone is used throughout the poem as if Gray was himself was explaining these recollections of his past personally.

The effect of this is to again connect to the audience, but also as this is near the end of the poem, it shows he is reaching a conclusion about his parents. Even with all his faults, Gray cared for his father. Gray ends his poem with “My pocket-knife slid sideways and pierced my hand – and so I dug with that one into the ashes”. The visual imagery of his blood mingling with his father’s ashes signifies that he is the link between his parents and his blood is the unifying element. Overall Gray has shown how discovery can be about having a renewed perception of the past and that the impact of these discoveries can be transforming for the individual. Through the nostalgia shown by Gray in this poem he is able to uncover a different perspective on his parents and this could only occur by looking back at his life with retrospect.

In Gray’s Late Ferry, the concept of discovery differs slightly to Diptych. In Late Ferry the speaker is looking with fear and uncertainty into the future, which leads to them longing for the past. Through this nostalgic attitude the speaker reflects on the future and discovers that he must move on from the past. The ferry that the speaker is observing is an icon of a bygone era and is associated with earlier times. In the first stanza the speaker describes the ferry going into “the huge dark harbour”, this visual image uses the adjectives “huge” and “dark” which carry connotations of uncertainty and the unknown.

This highlights the vulnerability of the ferry and symbolizes the fragility of people as we move out beyond our secure moorings and into the unknown. This is why I believe the speaker had an immediate affinity with the ferry, as they are moving forth from the warmth and safety they associate with the past. The speaker throughout the poem juxtaposes natural and man-made imagery. This is evident in the third stanza when “street lights’ fluorescence over the dark water” is compared to “like chromosomes uniting and dividing”, this simile uses a natural activity to show the effect of artificial lights. This juxtaposition shows the speaker’s apprehension to progress and modernity, which again shows his fear of the future.

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