Sunday, February 01, 2009

Poetic Interpretation IV

Continuing our explanation of "The Door" from previous posts.

When we left off our discussion, the escaped inmate's newfound solace was disrupted by the sirens and flashing lights of approaching police. He runs as fast as he possibly can, wishing it could be faster and that time would stand still. Then we read:

But his steely sleek competitor was unimpressed,
And with the cockiness of an amateur brush
Clumsily plumbed the palette of his misery;
A bright crimson mosaic now taking shape
On the crumbling asphalt canvas
Concrete soaking in every hue of aspiration,
Life wriggling to wrest itself from the grasp
Of desperation decomposed.

The "steely sleek competitor" is of course a bullet, which then penetrates his body. It is "unimpressed" because, even after all his efforts, he is no match for the speed of the bullet destined to end his life.

The next metaphor used here is that of an amateur painter's brush, which he clumsily plunges into a palette in order to begin working. In our case, the "brush" is the bullet which enters the escapee's body, "the palette of his misery". We then see the street become a "canvas" for a "crimson mosaic", i.e., his blood, and the concrete soaking in his "aspirations", i.e., his bodily fluids, which represent his ambition, creative potential, desires, etc. In other words, instead of his capacity for creativity being actualized through free choice and behavior, he himself became "material" for the "amateur brush" of a police bullet and used to "paint" the asphalt. Life now leaves him as his resistance to death slowly dissipates and he "decomposes".

The poem then provides us with a "retrospective" in the mind of the dying prisoner as he considers the irony of the whole situation. An open door, a window of opportunity was in reality a pathway to his own demise. Yet his fixation on the open door couldn't be reasoned away despite the risks, like the temptation of gazing at an eclipse when one shouldn't or irritating a wound even though it will delay the healing process.

Many more images are utilized to illustrate the notion that the door, for all its tantalizing power, was in fact the gateway to tragedy for the prisoner - for example, it was like the disingenuous talk of a used car salesman, the memorable beginning to a forgotten text (i.e., his potential new life would now be forgotten), or the entrance of an exquisitely dressed actor onto the stage not realizing it will be his last performance (he has on "raiment of oblivious glamor") just as the inmate reemerged on the "stage of life" in glory not realizing it was literally the beginning of the end for him.

Finally, we see that the whole narrative - the escape, the reunion with loved ones and employer, and the shooting a death - never actually happened. Instead, what we have been reading is the mental projection of the prisoner - what he believed would happen were he to avail himself of the opportunity to escape. He imagined a short-lived experience of joy and exhilaration followed by tragedy and death, and concluded that he would be a fool to risk such a move. Hence, overcoming the temptation once and for all, he shut the door.

One could interpret the underlying message of the poem in one of two ways. The first is positive - the prisoner is wise, he exercises forethought, deliberates carefully, and makes a prudent decision not to leave his cell. If only we all considered the potential consequences of our actions so carefully in advance!

The second possible interpretation is the negative one - namely, that the prisoner is so afraid of taking risks, so obsessed with the possible fallout of an unconventional move, that he timidly refrains from pursuing the opportunity of a lifetime for the sake of comfort and security.

This would metaphorically speak to all of us on a different level - we are all prisoners of conventional ideas, attitudes and habits, and we are conscious of this to some extent, but we are often too frightened of the consequences of bucking convention to explore the alternatives.

We imagine the fallout from such risky decisions as potentially tragic. Therefore, we resign ourselves to the bleak though predictable and socially acceptable confines of conventional human life rather than take a chance on true freedom.