Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge

by Ellen Bryant Voigt

Up there on the mountain road, the fireworks
blistered and subsided, for once at eye level:
spatter of light like water flicked from the fingers;
the brief emergent pattern; and after the afterimage bled
from the night sky, a delayed and muffled thud
that must have seemed enormous down below,
the sound concomitant with the arranged
threat of fire above the bleachers.
I stood as tall and straight as possible,
trying to compensate, trying not to lean in my friend’s
direction. Beside me, correcting height, he slouched
his shoulders, knees locked, one leg stuck out
to form a defensive angle with the other.
Thus we were most approximate
and most removed.

In the long pauses
between explosions, he’d signal conversation
by nodding vaguely toward the ragged pines.
I said my children would have loved the show.
He said we were watching youth at a great distance,
and I thought how the young
are truly boring, unvaried as they are
by the deep scar of doubt, the constant afterimage
of regret—no major tension in their bodies, no tender
hesitation, they don’t yet know
that this is so much work, scraping
from the self its multiple desires; don’t yet know
fatigue with self, the hunger for obliteration
that wakes us in the night at the dead hour
and fuels good sex.

Of course I didn’t say it.
I realized he watched the fireworks
with the cool attention he had turned on women
dancing in the bar, a blunt uninvested gaze
calibrating every moving part, thighs,
breasts, the muscles of abandon.
I had wanted that gaze on me.
And as the evening dwindled to its nub,
its puddle of tallow, appetite without object,
as the men peeled off to seek
the least encumbered consolation
and the women grew expansive with regard—
how have I managed so long to stand among the paired
bodies, the raw pulsing music driving
loneliness into the air like scent,
and not be seized by longing,
not give anything to be summoned
into the larger soul two souls can make?
Watching the fireworks with my friend,
so little ease between us,
I see that I have armed myself;
fire changes everything it touches.

Perhaps he has foreseen this impediment.
Perhaps when he holds himself within himself,
a sheathed angular figure at my shoulder,
he means to be protective less of him
than me, keeping his complicating rage
inside his body. And what would it solve
if he took one hand from his pocket,
risking touch, risking invitation—
if he took my hand it would not alter
this explicit sadness.

The evening stalls,
the fireworks grow boring at this remove.
The traffic prowling the highway at our backs,
the couples, the families scuffling on the bank
must think us strangers to each other. Or,
more likely, with the celebrated fireworks thrusting
their brilliant repeating designs above the ridge,
we simply blur into the foreground,
like the fireflies dragging among the trees
their separate, discontinuous lanterns.

Literary Analysis

This poem draws on the experiences of a single woman, who might be a widow or separated from her life partner. The theme of this poem is based on the life experiences of a single woman, or a woman who wants a loving partner. The poet also illustrates the existence of divergent forces such as good and evil and attraction and separation in an individual. The setting of the poem is close to the foothills of the Blue Ridge, a rural hilly region in Georgia. The title “Blue Ridge” suggests her residence.

The tone and overall impact of the poem is melancholic and pessimistic, although initially the tone is vibrant and happy, tinged with some element of sadness. The poet narrates her personal ordeal as a woman in society.

She opens the poem with a description of the Blue Ridge, where the speaker has gone with her boyfriend to see fireworks, which “blistered and subsided.” She is standing and observing the fireworks and pretending to show interest in her boyfriend, though she does not seem to be happy as she is trying to compensate, / trying not to lean in my friend’s /direction.”

However, in the second stanza, she states her experience of being married as different from those young people who do not have a partner, and have no responsibilities except the enjoyment of life. This seems to her quite boring. Here she directs her attention to those young people, stating that they have “no major tension in their bodies, no tender / hesitation, they don’t yet know/ that this is so much work.” She makes a comparison between the states of being married and unmarried. She then talks about women dancing, and her friend gazing at them. She says, “I had wanted that gaze on me.”

There is a wide distance between the poet and her boyfriend, which does not allow them to come close to each other. This makes her feel that there is something missing in their relationship. This gives her a feeling of loneliness, which her friend realizes, and puts his arm around her shoulders. However, this lone act does not satisfy her, for if he took my hand it would not alter/ this explicit sadness.” The speaker had tasted the flavors of married life, as it “wakes us in the night at the dead hour / and fuels good sex.” She misses the joys of married life.

Eventually, the party ends and the fireworks seem boring. The poet feels that others must have imagined them to be strangers because they could not come close to each other, and hence they “must think us strangers to each other.” At the end of the poem, the speaker uses a simile to compare both of them with fireflies saying, “like the fireflies dragging among the trees / their separate, discontinuous lanterns.”

Structural Analysis

“Blue Ridge” is a lyrical poem split up into five lengthy stanzas; the first two stanzas contain 15 lines, the third contains 22 lines, and the last two stanzas contain 10 lines each. The poem is written in free verse and therefore there is no rhyme scheme in any of the stanzas. The metrical pattern is alternating with trochaic pentameter to trochaic hexameter such as “Up there on the mountain road, the fireworks/blistered and subsided.” The diction of this poem is simple and denotative, as hardly any figurative language is employed. Enjambment is used several times in many lines such as “the brief emergent pattern; and after the afterimage bled/ from the night sky, a delayed and muffled thud / that must have seemed enormous down below.” End-stopped line comes in the middle of the stanzas. Alliteration is used in the third line of the first stanza, where we see the repetition of the “f” sound: “flicked from the fingers.” Another example of alliteration is of the “s” sound in “stood” andstraight.”

Guidance for Usage of Quotes

This poem is grounded in the experiences of a woman who is widowed. She seems to be lonely without a partner and has kids. She is presented with a male companion, but she is not satisfied. Instead, she wishes to be loved like a good life partner. She feels some insecurity in this part of her life. In the same way, women can send quotes from this poem to their lovers to express their desires on special occasions:

I had wanted that gaze on me….
if he took my hand it would not alter
this explicit sadness.”

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