“A Physics” by Heather McHugh Poem Analysis

Hello my field daisies!

Today I wanted to talk about one of my absolute favorite poems, A Physics by Heather McHugh. To be honest, I actually analyzed this back in 2012 but was too embarrassed to post it anywhere. This was before I had my blog, and if I could tell my 17 year old self anything, it would be to be confident in yourself because now looking back on it, I feel like it’s one of my best analyses. Below you will find the actual notes I took on the poem, and as you can see in the bottom right corner, I took these notes on 9/12/2012. I recommend reading the plain text version in its entirety first before continuing with reading the rest of this post.

If poetry really isn’t your thing, well at least check out this e-poem McHugh did. It’s fun. You get to scroll really fast and it makes waves 🙂

Shoutout to my high school English teacher, Mr. Thompson, for giving me this wonderful book, “Good Poems for Hard Times,” selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor.

5 Reasons Why This Poem Is Awesome: 

One: A Very Personal Relationship To Audience 

“When you get down to it, Earth

has our own great ranges” 

McHugh starts off the poem with “you,” and continues with “our own.” In my opinion, she wants this to be a very inclusive poem. She is speaking to all of the people on the planet Earth, but she starts with you, not the expansiveness of the whole Earth, which is oftentimes hard to grasp. I mean how can you relate to 7.5 billion people from different nations and cultures? Yet she does it so well. She has notions that relate to everyone:

We run
our clocks on wheels, our trains
on time. But all the while we want

to love each other endlessly-not only for
a hundred years, not only six feet up and down.”

The world is such a beautiful and strange place, and McHugh makes a great analogy to represent that. Clocks are machines, and although most are run on circuits now, there are still some traditional people that have clocks that run on gears. We all run on time. Our lives are based around managing time, saving time, wasting time, etc.

And yet.

All we want is to live a long and happy life, to find the love of our life and settle down. Of course there are some people who don’t want this, but we can all relate to this line in some form or another.

Two: Use of Dashes 

At the very top of my analysis in 2012 I wrote and underlined that “The use of dashes is quite excellent.”

I still believe that.

Sadly sometimes poems don’t translate well onto the Internet, so if you read the plain text version, you probably didn’t notice the dashes because they are so small. But if you read this poem from a book, you will see the way dashes are used as a long pause. You’re probably thinking this is obvious and nonsignificant, but as a person who recited poetry in high school, this is very important. It gives the reader or listener a chance to read or hear the poem how the author intended.

I have them circled above in orange. Feel free to read the poem again on my page with the notes. It might make more sense now, and poetry is best read several times.

Three: Beautiful Symmetry and Assonance

I believe every good poem has some sort of symmetry. Assonance is literally my favorite form of symmetry. I try to use it all the time in my regular writing. For those who don’t know, assonance means “in poetry, the repetition of the sound of a vowel or diphthong in nonrhyming stressed syllables near enough to each other for the echo to be discernible” (Thank you Google).

So what does that really mean? I think it would be best to explain in an example. Here is the second stanza of the poem:

The still pools fill with sky,
as if aloof, and we have eyes
for all of this-and more, for Earth’s
reminding moon. We too are ruled

Look at how she uses the words with double “oo”s such as pools, aloof and moon in the same stanza. She also uses the words “still” and “fill” in between “pools.” Genius really. It creates a cohesiveness that is needed for poetry.

But why does this stanza end like this? This brings me to my next point.

Four: Runoff Stanzas

I love the way this poem flows from one stanza to the next. A sentence is left as a cliff that leads you to the next stanza. The feeling of this as you look at it on the page is so soothing. Sadly when read out loud, these tiny details go missed, so there still are some advantages to reading rather than listening to audiobooks folks!

Just take a look at this example:

We want the suns and moons of silver
in ourselves, not only counted coins in a cup. The whole

idea of love was not to fall.

She says the whole idea of love was not to fall, yet she creates a situation where the reader feels as if they are falling. It’s such a beautiful contradiction. We always say we want to fall in love, but is that really the case?

This brings me to my last and final point.

Five: Thought Provoking Ending 

The whole

idea of love was not to fall. And neither was
the whole idea of God. We put him well
above ourselves, because we meant,
in time, to measure up.

Though we don’t like to admit it, life is about the measurements. We would like to believe life is about the feels and falling in love, but in reality it’s about the numbers. If businesses don’t make their quotas, everyone in the office is affected. We make pro and con sheets all the time to solve stressful situations. I love the ending of this poem because it ends not about the people on Earth, but about God (whatever God you believe in). It widens the scope of the poem to the whole universe. And maybe, instead of thinking we could never be like God, we should strive to be like him or her or it. I truly believe in love, kindness and respect for all people, and in my heart, I think God does too. We should always try to be a better person, a good person.

Love ya’ll and thanks for reading!

Hope you have a daisyish day!

Daisy Dai

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