Poetry Review: Adam Zagajewski “Moths”

2 Oct

Zagajewski’s “Moths” is a wonderful poem that is really hard to speak about because it’s imagistic–it’s aim is to get a snapshot view of a moment.   Poems like this are often quite striking, but the mind does not know what to do with these simple moments, like pearls.

“Moths watched us through/the window.  Seated at the table./ We were skewered by their lambent gazes./Harder than their shattering wings.”

So this is what we know—it is night, at least a couple, but it very well might be a family, are inside, and moths are watching them.   There’s an alien feel to this poem, the moths are not normal guests, but spying on this family through the window.   Even their descriptions–these are not the normal soft fluttery creatures that come to mind with moths. Their gazes are lambent (which means glowing), and they skewer.  They shatter instead of flutter.   There’s a great sense of invasion, of being watched.

“You’ll always be outside,/past the pane.  And we’ll be here within,/more and more in.  Moths watched us/through the window, in August.”

The windowpane becomes a divider between the moths and the family.   The family keeps withdrawing farther and farther as the moths pose some sort of threat.   The threat of being noticed.   There’s a certain paranoia, a dis-ease that lives between the very deliberate words here.   And what is it that the moths represent?   A fear of nature maybe, though moths are less associated with wild nature, and more with the nighttime, of being in a lit area as the darkness fills the world.   And this light shines outwards and attracts things like moths.   It brings to mind our little worlds of safety vs. the unknown (which is what usually is the terrifying element in nearly everything), and those moths represent the scary things that come up when the light hits the darkness.   The things of the darkness travel towards the light, and if you aren’t the sort prepared to deal with these things, you withdraw even more.

That’s why their gazes glow and skewer, the reason their wings shatter not only brings the mind of shattering glass (because windows can break) but also the fact that because these creatures symbolize a threat their tiny flutters become loud out of fear.   Honestly this almost sounds like a horror movie poem, at the very beginning, before the monster shows his head.   The reason that ending “In August” works is because August would be a natural time for moths to be about (rather than January which would be quite unnatural), and also in August moths wouldn’t be around a window for need of warmth or shelter.   The moths are pursuing something, not escaping something else.



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