The poem begins with “Good evening, little visitor”, in this first line two things are brought to our attention. First, “Good evening” is a very formal greeting, it implies a great deal of respect and shows us the poet’s opinion of the comet as a thing that should be revered and appreciated. Second, the words “little visitor” present a slightly different opinion of the comet, one of smallness and insignificance, in fact, it’s almost diminishing, but still retaining the same fondness we found in the first half of the line.
These contrasting ideas of importance and insignificance are maintained throughout the remainder of the poem. Still very near the beginning of the poem another significant line can be found: “But who’d have thought you’d be so shy,” the significance of this line lies partly in the beginning “But who’d have thought” this establishes the idea that the “shyness” is unexpected, the world was expecting a fantastic display but have yet to see it. Also with the introduction of contracted words “who’d” and “you’ld” which are the beginning of a far less formal and more relaxed style of writing.
The informality is associated with the theme of insignificance, almost as if the comet, being nothing more than, “a dirty undense snowball” is not deserving of such respect. Also, the subject of shyness, also an important theme, is first brought to light in this line. Furthermore, here it becomes noticeable that the poem is divided into a few distinguishable parts the first of which is Abrahams’ physical description of the comet in the sky.
Continuing from the theme of modesty and the comet’s description is a statement of the world’s presumption of the comet’s behaviour; that it would “streak through, flashing that famous double tail, / autographing the prophetic sky”. These actions are not dissimilar to the behaviour you would expect from a celebrity, because to the people of the world the comet is a celebrity, it has been on the news, they’ve heard of it’s “awesome mysteries” and, above all, they have been expecting its return for years.
However, this is not what they actually discover. Instead, they find it has done “an elusive Garbo act” the use of Garbo is strikingly apt as she was an incredibly famous and beautiful actress who was widely known and held in great regard by most of the world at the time, but she also shunned the spotlight and the attention she gained from her career, she rarely made public appearances and therefore developed a great air of mystery, rather like Halley’s Comet.
Equally, the use of “prophetic” is meaningful as the notion of prophecy becomes very important it the latter parts of the poem. The second section of the poem deals with the effect of modern science on the comet. It returns to notion of shyness, and, more specifically, the reason for it.
The reason being that people know too much, that modern technology and science have stripped the comet of its “ancient awesome mysteries” and revealed that it is, in fact, nothing more than a “dirty undense snowball (…) that only shines because the sun / lends it a bit of common light” during this phrase Halley’s Comet is no-longer personified, it is no-longer directly addressed as “you” but, instead, is referred to as “it”, this implies that that the poet is paraphrasing somebody else’s opinion of the comet and, while these facts are true, they do not, in Abraham’s opinion, retract from the importance he gives the comet in the opening line, he feels that these revelations combined with the comet’s new “subtlety”, as it hides “among our city lights”, only serve to make it “more moving”.
This transition between the world’s opinion of the comet and Abrahams’ opinion of the comet is marked by the line “I like it, in a way”. What is also significant about this line is that it marks a definitive change in the style of writing Abrahams is now using very informal language which not only serves to re-engage the reader but also allows for a clear division between his own point of view and the rest of the world’s.
Essentially, Abrahams is saying that the comet has lost it’s “majesty” due to our technological advancements, such as the “city lights” which make the comet seem inconspicuous. However, this leaves the reader curious as Abrahams has not explained why this makes the comet important. During the next part of the poem Abrahams discusses how he believes the comet’s journey to be one that requires a heroic effort, how it is only barely making its orbit by “the skin of its momentum”. “We should applaud like mad” he writes “that you make it again on time.
” This sentence reiterates that the comet is barely managing to arrive at Earth, and as the poet believes we should be applauding the comet for this achievement shows that, in his opinion, the fact that the comet returns is incredible when the vast distances it crosses on its “long, lonely orbit” are taken into account. “You’ve shed the scary Nostradamus mask” says Abrahams, meaning that through our scientific discoveries the comet is no-longer a symbol of anything as it used to be, can no-longer move the likes of “the old Wise Men, King Harold and Mark Twain” as we do not believe it to be prophetic anymore.
Instead, he likens the comet to “some private rare Aunt Maud”, the generic distant relative that nobody really knows but will occaisionally “drop by” merely to show herself and “check our face”. The casual “dropping by” in this sentence continues the theme of insignificance surrounding the comet, that its visits are no more important than those of a friend we see every day. This idea is re-enforced in the line “No more fortune-teller, dearest Aunt,” though the word “dearest” shows that this guise of the comet is far more friendly than “scary Nostradamus”.
However the use of the word “private” is also noteworthy, it demonstrates that while the comet is not important to the world at large it is still important on a personal level, this is the clear message of the poem, because as “Aunt Maud” arrives she gives she gives us her gift, allowing that we “achieve a stroke of prophecy. ” Meaning that the comet is prophetic of itself returning and it is one of the few things that we can predict.
Continuing with this idea he closes the poem by saying “We thank you, little comforter: / that the dark potent emptiness ahead / contains one probable smear of light” firstly, in this sentence Abrahams returns to the use of “we” showing that he speaks for the entire globe as he says this giving a lot of weight to the next lines of the poem. Secondly, use of “little comforter” mirrors the “little visitor” at the beginning of the poem, drawing more attention to these lines but also mirroring the feeling on fondness that we saw at the beginning of the poem.
The comet is not seen as a foreteller of great events as it used to be. It has “shed its scary Nostradamus mask” and is not prophetic of human events anymore, but it is prophetic of its own return and in doing so fulfils its own prophecy, an this is the important message of the poem; that despite all we have done to damage the comet’s image, it is, perhaps, more important than ever as because of our advances in technology we cannot possibly conceive what the world will be like the next time Halley’s Comet arrives, but the one thing we can be sure of is that it will.