The Critics’ Corner

Doug Pugh, “Clocktower Winds”

Explication by Don Webb

Mary B. McArdle agrees that Doug Pugh’s “Clocktower Winds,” in issue 202, is a lovely poem but might be helped a bit by punctuation. Her version is quoted below. You can click on the link and compare it with the original, side by side. What do you think? Might you punctuate the poem differently?

Clocktower Winds

by Doug Pugh

I never noticed
On the stair winds of life,
When up
In counted effort
Became down;
Always seeking
That balustraded edge
With a vantage;
To sit back with ease,
To draw in and sigh
The wonders that lie
There all the time
Unseen —
Through walls
Of sandstone
I made myself;
Waiting till I was there,
And yet —
I suddenly find
My way is now down.
That crest passed me by
And the walls
Still scratch
And hold firm
Odd glimpses now and then,
Through taunting
Peepholes;
And slow as I might,
Gravity pulls onwards
Inexorable.

Copyright © 2006 by Doug Pugh

  The ambiguities so characteristic of English can be a plague in prose and a boon in poetry. The title and the poem contain a mystery: is “winds” a noun or a verb? Or is it both at once?

From the outside, the poem looks like its title: a clock tower, tall and thin. The lines resemble the steps one might take to mount to the top and then, as the poem says, come back down again. The stairway is narrow: “the walls still scratch and hold firm,” and the line lengths are equally constrained.

The syntax itself imitates the circular winding of the staircase. The narrator enters the clock tower with a complete sentence that states the theme and presages the structure of the poem: “I never noticed on the stair winds of life, when up in counted effort became down.”

Between “Always seeking” and “Waiting till I was there,” there is no complete sentence, provided “the wonders” is taken as the direct object of “sigh,” which is permissible in poetry though not in prose. “Always seeking” might have been “I always sought,” but the sentence fragments with no subject pronoun emphasize the imaginary nature of “vantage,” “ease,” “sigh,” and “wonders.”

With “And yet” the narrator reaches the top and descends the staircase of life all too quickly in three complete sentences. Only the fragment “Odd glimpses now and then through taunting peepholes” briefly interrupts them to recall the vistas imagined in younger days.

“Clocktower Winds” goes far beyond the commonplace theme of tempus fugit. It is a lament for a failure of vision: “that balustraded edge” becomes “taunting peepholes,” and “wonders” become “odd glimpses.” Sadly, the failure is somehow self-imposed, because beyond the “walls of sandstone I made myself,” wonders lie outside of time.

Copyright © 2006 by Don Webb

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