.. vement which rejects love and men and all things traditional. Atwood’s first few lines reduce the word “love” to an object of convenience. Her words are highly discouraging, as “love” is merely something sold for commercial value (“add lace on it . ..”) and cutesy magazine advertisements “There are whole/ magazines with not much in them/ but the word love, you can/ rub it all over your body and you/ can cook with it too”(802).
Again, here we see a bit more of the feminist theme we’ve come to expect from Margaret Atwood. She expertly mocks the type of women’s literature that provides its reader’s with mushy romance, heavy perfumes, and cooking recipes. Yet, as before, it is important to interpret Atwood’s intentions correctly. Assuming “Variations on the Word Sleep” was written in a sincere tone, we know that love, for Atwood, transcends the boundaries of commercialism and even conventional devotion. Atwood is not saying that love is an over-rated, half-imagined concept created by Hallmark or Cosmo that should be rejected by intelligent females. She is using her poetry to redefine the boundaries of love.Her approach in this poem is from a post-modernist point of view, because she recognizes that words can be powerful, yet often inept at holding meaning.
Her second stanza becomes more personal, showing the gap between what the shrunken word “love” and what it can be, in reality, between soul mates: “Then there’s the two/ of us. This word/ is far too short for us, it has only/ four letters, too sparse/ to fill those deep bare/ vacuums between the stars/ that press on us with their deafness”(802). So again, Atwood has effectively evolved the concept of love. And she has let her feminist colors glimmer in her portrayal of modern women’s magazines, while showing that connections between two people are intensive and indefinable.This poem is also intriguing because she manages to come to the same feelings of helplessness towards the end of the poem that we saw glimpses of in “Variations on the Word Sleep.
” Atwood described the word love as being “single vowel in this metallic/ silence, a mouth that says/ O again and again in wonder/ and pain, a breath, a finger/ grip on a cliffside”(802). Here, Atwood captures the desperation of love while also finding new angles with which to celebrate it. Her last stanza gives the reader a feeling of transcendence without a single use of the word “love,” which strengthens her theme. As in the previous poem, her description of the emotions shared between two people has surpassed conventional interpretations of intimacy.
The third poem, “Postcard,” is yet another example of Atwood’s talent for redesigning the concept of love.Just as we have seen before, Atwood is interested in the ways in which both words and literary mediums convey the sense of human relationships. In this poem, she studies the words that might go on a conventional postcard, and also how reality differs from the usual declarations of love that come in the mail. The first line of the poem is representative of what one might expect on the back of a postcard: “I’m thinking of you. What else can I say?” but Atwood immediately dissects the allusion of an ideal vacation with a perfect love waiting across the sea. She describes the surroundings as being dirty and disappointing, and the reader gets the sense that her words may apply to the narrator’s relationship as well: “What we have are the usual/ fractured coke bottles and the smell/ of backed-up drains, too sweet, / like a mango on the verge/ of rot, which we have also”.
One must be careful not to oversimplify Atwood’s images here, but it is interesting to interpret this putrid environment as a metaphor for the disintegrating relationship between the writer and the addressee. The “backed-up drains,” for instance, and the rotting sweetness are indicative of the poem’s dark, disparaging tone. This poem delineates from the feelings of intense love in the other two poems, but it is important to notice that Atwood has avoided, yet again, boxing the two characters into sexual identities, thus, the reader is free to interpret the relationship in “Postcard” according to their own experience or imagination.
What is also apparent in “Postcards” is that Atwood sidesteps the usual trappings of what we expect love to be. “Variations on the Word Sleep” depicts a psychological or dream-like journey which intensified the idea of connection and sacrifice, while “Variations of the Word Love’ pulls new meaning out of such connections by denying the reduction of language.”Postcard” is certainly less optimistic about love, but again we see Atwood attempting to transcend the ordinariness of romance. Just as magazines are often inept at capturing the essence of our connections, so are corny vacation postcards. Instead of using the back of the postcard for forced simplicity and reduced senses of time, Atwood writes “time comes in waves here, a sickness, one/ day after the other rolling on; / I move up, its called/ awake, then down into the uneasy / nights but never / forward”.
Again, Atwood has a perceptive sense of movement in her poetry. As we have seen before, she used words such as “enter,” “over,” and “follow,” in the previous lines, and in “Postcards” Atwood rocks her readers into queasiness with the words “rolling on,” “up,” “down into,” and “never froward.” The narrator’s vacation has become an absurd foreign nightmare, and the “glossy image” on the front of the postcard serves as a metaphor for the dark realities of being disconnected from others.In conclusion, Margaret Atwood’s poetry is not what one might expect from a feminist writer. While her novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace explore the feminine perspective, her poetry can be characterized by its genderless conscious and its unconventional portrayal of love. Atwood’s poetic voice defies the trappings of feminism in the sense that it embraces romantic images.
Atwood shows the reader, through such poems as “Variations on the Word Sleep” that love transcends ordinary human activity, and chases it even into the depths of our consciousness and deepest fears. This poem captures the beauty of love by avoiding gender trappings and by carrying the reader through the boundaries of language. This is also true of her poem “Variations on the Word Love,” where Atwood gives us what language is incapable of and reshapes the language of human connection.
Of course, Atwood’s poetry should not be oversimplified. In the poem “Postcards” we see a revival of the “high priestess of angst” that is predominant in her novels. “Postcards” is undoubtedly bitter: “Love comes/ in waves like the ocean, a sickness which goes on/ & on, a hollow cave/ in the head, filling and pounding, a kicked ear.” But again, Atwood has found a descriptive language to redefine love and overstep gender issues. The poetic voice in this poem makes the pain of absence clear to the reader, and again, we feel the power and pain of human connections. Atwood peels off the layers of consciousness to reveal a multi-faceted perspective on a usually clich subject. Love, through Atwood’s poetry, transcends our expectations of humanness and gender.Poetry Essays.