A Martian Sends a Postcard Home, by Craig Raine Essay
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The first method of criticism to use to better understand the 1979 poem “A Martian Sends a Postcard Home” by Craig Raine is Formalism. When you want to analyze a poem wishing the formalist method you should look at three things. The form, the physical structure of the poem, such as the length of the lines or stanzas, their rhythms, and their rhymes and repetition. Next is diction, what the words of the poem literally mean and why they chose that exact word instead of another one.
Last is the unity of the poem, this is when significant parts of the poem come together to make the entire then whole. A formalist will look at all of these things when they critique a poem to try to understand the deeper meaning.
Let’s first look at the structure of the poem. “A Martian Sends a Postcard Home” is comprised of 34 lines in couplets that do not rhyme. Sometimes words seem to be places where they shouldn’t be almost overflowing onto the next line. This use of couplets is for the readers benefit, it makes the poem much easier to read on the page. He also could have formatted his poem like this because the poem contains many metaphors and it is easier to focus on the metaphor if there is a break in between. Cleanth Brooks would call this an Aesthetic Structure because the structure of the poem is meant for the readers to understand it easier. Raine tries to write the poem to appeal to whoever is reading it and that is why he chose this form of writing in his poem.
Second, we need to look at the diction inside the poem and there is a lot of interesting word choices by Raine. The best way to do this is to look at what words are in each line and what each line is saying. The first six lines are where the author uses his first comparison. A Caxton is a reference to the Englishman Will Caxton who first printed books. He then compares these books to a creature of earth, birds. He compares the bird’s wings to the pages of the books and both birds and books each have their way of showing their importance or meaning. Birds show how their importance and meaning with their color and books show how their importance and meaning with the words they contain. “cause the eyes to melt/ or the body to shriek without pain” refer to human emotions cry and laugh that the speaker of the poem (The Martian) doesn’t understand. Then he goes on to say how a book cannot fly but he has seen one perch on the hand, making note of how humans hold books as they read them.
The next four lines also make a comparison between nature and mankind. “Mist is when the sky is tired of flight” could be saying that the sky is a way to travel for the Martian through a UFO or spaceship. “engravings under tissue paper” takes us back to a book but this time it seems unimportant, like the Martian might not understand the importance of a book. Lines 11 and 12 the rain is compared to a T.V. They both make things appear darker than they really. Also, rain could be like the static in a T.V when the signal is fuzzy often when it is raining. The next two lines talk about “a Model T” which is a kind of car that was very popular in the early 1900’s. The “room” is the inside of the car where everyone sits and the “lock” is ignition where the key goes. “Key is turned to free the world” is the car moving and the “film” is the mirror that lets you see the world as it goes by in case you missed something. Lines 17 and 18 talks about something a lot of people have an obsession with keeping track of, time. Tied to a wrist is a watch and kept in a box is a clock. The Martian is saying that humans try to make time an object and there is no reason for this because your time will always run out.
Lines 19- 24 make another comparison to mankind and nature, an ongoing theme in the poem. This time it’s comparing a telephone to a baby. If the phone rings it is similar to a baby when it cries, a parent needs to pick the baby up when it cries as you need to pick up the phone when it is ringing. When the baby is tickled it is like when you dial a number into the phone you are both using your fingers do the action. The next six lines talk about a child and an adult using the restrooms differently. The children “are allowed to suffer/openly” while the “Adults go to a punishment room / with water but nothing to eat.” Going back to a similar theme with time being imprisoned the people impress themselves in these bathrooms. Everyone is punished when they use the restroom and no one is safe from this punishment. The people force themselves to use the restroom and the children as well, in the eyes of the Martian. The last lines have the last comparison which brings us full circle in the poem. He makes the comparison of reading to dreaming. The night everything becomes dark and the people as a couple start to dream. The author might have used couples like how the whole poem is in couplets showing that humans belong in pairs. “With their eyelids shut” is them sleeping in bed “read about themselves” is their dreams. All in all, there are many metaphors to unpack in this poem and you start to get an understanding of the overall meaning of the poem and its unity.
So what message is Raine trying to get across to us with all of his man vs nature metaphors? A formalist would argue that Raine is just trying to paint a picture of what an outsider would actually see if they were not in our society. They don’t see things the way humans do and they can’t even think of the right words to say for the things the Martian is seeing. The metaphors thought out the poem reinforce the point that the Martian isn’t sure what he is seeing and can only describe them in things that he has seen before. The Martian is able to take his experiences and connect them in a way with the humans. He thinks some of the things they do are strange and funny at the time, but he can still make references to his own life and his views on life.
However, this might not at all be what the author is saying. It is possible that we have no idea what Raine meant when writing this poem and Allen Tate argues the only real way to understand what modern poetry contains is to “Start young, read the classical languages and later read the philosophers.” We can only make a guess at what Raine was saying in this poem and that is what makes poetry beautiful. Everyone can take it their own way, an infinite possibility of what the poem means to them or to anyone. Or could it be that formalism is not the best method of understanding this poem and we need to look more outside the text to understand what Raine meant?
This next method of Criticism isn’t as much as taking the text at face value like the formalist method. It is about trying to get inside the mind of the author and figure out what was going on in his head when he was writing his poetry. There are 4 main critics that use Psychological criticism when unpacking literary work and they each have similar but unique styles when doing so. The first is Sigmund Freud, to have a Freudian approach to this text you would not oversimplify what the author meant and exaggerate your interoperations of symbolism as well as using all of Freud’s psychological jargon. This will allow you to dive deeper into the text and not just float on the top of the water. The second is Carl Jung and Mythological Criticism. Jung focuses on two things, the Conscious/Unconscious and archetypes. The Conscious/Unconscious refer to the human psyche and how our ancient ancestors thought and felt. Archetypes are very typical examples of a certain person or thing. Jung talks about archetypes for characters, images, and situations. The third Northrop Frye used Jung’s ideas of archetypes to help promote his “theory of myths”. Frye argued that every text follows one of four mythoi and the whole text was called the monomyth. Last Jacques Lacan came up with an updated Freudian method for understanding literature. He had a different method for analysis characters in stories such as other and Other. The small o being the inside and the Big O is the outside of the body. Lacan also came up with Antirealism which is his assertion that langue is detached from reality. All of these four authors methods are important when looking at what Rain meant when writing “A Martain Sends a Postcard Home” and to get a better understand lets us apply of these to the Poem.
The last Stanza of this poem “read about themselves/ in color, with their eyelids shut” could be argued that this is a dream that the humans are having. Freudian theory becomes stronger when people are dreaming, Freud believed that dreams are a symbol of antiquity and that their dreams contain the needs of the induvial that they might fight troublesome