"Rough Country"

Give me a landscape made of obstacles,
of steep hills and jutting glacial rock,
where the low-running streams are quick to flood
the grassy fields and bottomlands.
A place
no engineers can master–where the roads
must twist like tendrils up the mountainside
on narrow cliffs where boulders block the way.
Where tall black trunks of lightning-scalded pine
push through the tangled woods to make a roost
for hawks and swarming crows.
And sharp inclines
where twisting through the thorn-thick underbrush,
scratched and exhausted, one turns suddenly
to find an unexpected waterfall,
not half a mile from the nearest road,
a spot so hard to reach that no one comes–
a hiding place, a shrine for dragonflies
and nesting jays, a sign that there is still
one piece of property that won't be owned.

In "Rough Country" Dana Gioia expresses his deep desires for nature and its purity. He wants to get away from society filled with technology and countless man made objects. His use of detailed imagery from beginning to end paints a picture in our minds of the natural scene that he longs for. He does not fail to leave out details of the surroundings as he introduces a pine as "lightning-scalded" and the underbrush as "thorn-thick". This imagery shows that although beaten up at times, nature can never truly be corrupted. It is, however, seen as challenging, "made of obstacles, of steep hills and jutting glacial rock". When one is in nature, you never know what you may come across. The word "twist" is repeated throughout the poem, showing nature's unpredictability. He further shows this through words such as "tangled" "swarming" and "unexpected". The poem is set up in an irregular rhyme and the flow of words are twisting and turning just as the nature is. The reader does not know what to expect next. Although unpredictable, Gioia makes nature appealing in a mysterious kind of way. The environment is like a "hiding place...a sign that there is still one piece of property that won'e be owned". Because nature consists of no alterations, it has a sort of innocence as it is almost like another world away from our typical everyday schedules. Nature is the farthest thing from uniform, it is "A place no engineers can master". One sees how complex it is as Gioia talks of the "busy" atmosphere. The last line of this poem states that nature is "one piece of property that won't be owned". Nature is not under anyones control and never will be. I feel like Gioia is longing for the everlasting freedom that nature has and therefore wants to run away from the current lifestyle he is living in.


"Do Not Expect"

Do not expect that if your book falls open
to a certain page, that any phrase
you read will make a difference today,
or that the voices you might overhear
when the wind moves through the yellow-green
and golden tent of autumn, speak to you.

Things ripen or go dry. Light plays on the
dark surface of the lake. Each afternoon
your shadow walks beside you on the wall,
and the days stay long and heavy underneath
the distant rumor of the harvest. One
more summer gone,
and one way or another you survive,
dull or regretful, never learning that
nothing is hidden in the obvious
changes of the world, that even the dim
reflection of the sun on tall, dry grass
is more than you will ever understand.

And only briefly then
you touch, you see, you press against
the surface of impenetrable things.

"Do Not Expect" by Dana Gioia has an overall dark and depressing tone about it. Just as seen in the title, it is very negative, showing no hope for the future. In contrast to the previous poem, "Rough Country", "Do Not Expect" is not as literal and the imagery is not as concrete. It begins by talking of expectations and how nothing you read or hear "will make a difference" which in itself shows his lack of motivation. Gioia mentiones hearing "voices...when the wind moves through the yellow-green and golden tent of autumn". The bright and colorful imagery of autumn creates a slight hope; however, he feels as if even something so beautiful does not "speak to you". In the second stanza, he emphasizes that everything eventually has a somber ending-in the end there is no happiness. Line 7 states "Things ripen or go dry" showing his feeling towards life. Instead of living in the moment, he thinks of the future darkness to come. He brings in light versus darkness imagery to represent the particular mood of the poem. He describes a lake scene as "Light [playing] on the dark surface". Although light is present, the darkness overwhelms the surface. The lake represents his views on life. He goes on to say that "Each afternoon your shadow walks beside you on the wall". An afternoon is usually categorized with sun and the peak of a busy day, but Gioia points out that your shadow is always with you. He also uses words such as "long" and "heavy" to represent the days. He views a person at the end of a day as solely "[surviving], dull or regretful, never learning that nothing is hidden in the obvious changes of the world". The fact that he says "nothing is hidden" contradicts what he says in "Rough Country" about nature being a "hiding place" which I thought was interesting. He clearly has given up on trying and sees the world as "more than you will ever understand". The world and everything in it is way too complex to figure out. In the last lines everyday senses such as "touch", "see" and "press" are used when describing "the surface of impenetrable things". This line shows that the tone of this poem remains the same from beginning to end. Gioia decides to end the poem this way to portray that no matter how hard you try, one will never truly and completely master the things in our world.


"The Country Wife"

She makes her way through the dark trees
Down to the lake to be alone.
Following their voices on the breeze,
She makes her way. Through the dark trees
The distant stars are all she sees.
They cannot light the way she's gone.
She make her way through the dark trees
Down to the lake to be alone.

The night reflected on the lake,
The fire of stars changed into water.
She cannot see the winds that break
The night reflected on the lake
But knows they motion for her sake.
These are the choices they have brought her:
The night reflected on the lake,
The fire of stars changed into water.

In "The Country Wife", Dana Gioia expresses sadness and very little hope for the future. As usual, Gioia uses nature to emphasize the rather "depressing" tone of this poem. Instead of showing nature as perfect, Gioia likes to show more of a rugged side of nature. This is seen in the titles of not only this poem, but also "Rough Country". I find that the most significance of this poem comes from repitition, which is something that is actually not commonly seen in his poetry.
The first stanza begins by describing a woman getting away from her life and seeking solitude. Gioia emphasizes the words "dark", "down" and "alone" by beginning and ending this stanza by saying, "She makes her way through the dark trees/Down to the lake to be alone". He does this to show the certain depressing state the woman is in at the moment. I feel like the trees symbolize the woman in a way because there is always darkness surrounding them just as she cannot find happiness in her life. She goes "down" to get to the trees which represents negativity taking over her life. She cannot get on the right path, which is up. The trees are also being personified as she follows "their voices on the breeze". She is desperately searching for something to better her life. In line 5, Gioia states that she solely sees "distant stars". The stars symbolize hope but they are too far away, therefore "they cannot light the way she's gone". They are unable to shed light on her life filled with darkness.
The second stanza is harder to understand in my opinion. Instead of speaking of darkness, he states that "The night reflected on the lake,/The fire of stars changed into water" in the beginning and end of this stanza. Just as the trees in the first stanza, the stars are being personified. I feel like this could be interpreted in different ways, but I saw this as the stars representing people in her life reaching out to her, desperately trying to help her situation. Although the stars are far away, they are reflecting on the lake as a way to get close to her. Along with the stars, the "winds", another personification, are trying to push her in the right direction. Gioia says "She cannot see the winds" but it is clear that the woman acknowledge the efforts because she "knows they motion for her sake". Although dark in the beginning, nature shows her some hope for the future in the end. The end is left with no closure in that we do not know how the woman decides to move on with her life.



Now you hear what the house has to say.
Pipes clanking, water running in the dark,
the mortgaged walls shifting in discomfort,
and voices mounting in an endless drone
of small complaints like the sounds of a family
that year by year you’ve learned how to ignore.

But now you must listen to the things you own,
all that you’ve worked for these past years,
the murmur of property, of things in disrepair,
the moving parts about to come undone,
and twisting in the sheets remember all
the faces you could not bring yourself to love.

How many voices have escaped you until now,
the venting furnace, the floorboards underfoot,
the steady accusations of the clock
numbering the minutes no one will mark.
The terrible clarity this moment brings,
the useless insight, the unbroken dark.

Just as Gioia's previous poem "The Country Wife", "Insomnia" has an overall dark feeling to it. The tone is very regretful as an adult sits up at night thinking and dwelling of their past actions. I saw this as a dad who is reflecting, as the man is usually head of the house. The first stanza focuses on the obvious sounds of the house. Gioia chooses to use words such as "clanking", "dark" and "discomfort" to describe the pipes, water and walls. The man is "shifting in discomfort" just as the walls are. Sitting their in complete silence, it is as if he hears "voices mounting in an endless drone of small complaints". These "voices" represent his family that he has constantly blocked out and not cared enough about over the years.
As the first stanza is about "what the house has to say", the second stanza is more detailed into the things the man has done over the years. Word such as "disrepair", "come undone" are used to describe the many parts of the house that are broken. This vivid imagery symbolizes the man's broken life due to the fact that he has focused on things that are not important in life. He worked hard for material items over the years, instead of building a strong foundation with his family. Family is what brings true happiness, not objects that eventually break. At the end of the second stanza he even thinks back to past relationships, remembering all the faces he could not bring himself to love. This regret is another "voice" in his head that he can hear in the silence of the night.
The last stanza is the man finally realizing that his life is broken and far from repair. He describes it as a moment of "terrible clarity" because he knows there is not much he can do at this point. All of the voices have "escaped" him and are long gone. Although the realization should be seen as a step to a better life, gioia uses "useless" to describe the insight that insomnia has brought him. In the end he sees that there is really no hope for the future. In the very last line, he describes his current state as "the unbroken dark". He is currently in silence, everything is clear and okay. However, he knows that he will just wake up in the morning and be right back to his everyday broken life.