In response to ‘Passing Through’
‘Passing Through’ is a piece which, as its title suggests, is about constant, seminal movement, and negates any false sense of stasis or certainty. The vast majority of verbs appear the present continuous (“Passing”; “Scanning”; “limping”; fifteen in total) which indicate an action being performed rather than its completion. Conversely, in the second stanza, the actions that may affect or be performed by the speaker are put in the conditional: “If asked […] I might answer”.
These continual and conjectural actions (part of the poem’s drama) unfold within a time frame that is regularly compressed or dilated. The poem opens at dusk (an intangible hour), and already attempts to delay the oncoming darkness by holding on to the “last minutes of pink light limping weakly out” (seven stresses for eleven syllables; strong alliteration). Later on, after two introspective stanzas and without preparation, the night is now “behind/& racing in front”. On the level of rhyme (a time-bound unit of measure), the poem plays further tricks on the reader. The first four lines work in a sense of regularity in its straightforward ABAB scheme, while the fifth ends in “coast”, a slant rhyme on “out/shout”, which undermines any sense of stability but rather opens onto another sound system, later chiming with “caught” and “sunburst”.
“basking shark, red kite, stravaiging minstrel,
[…] Looking in I really feel none of these”
In the light of this lack (or withholding) of definition, the poem articulates its speaker around a series of oppositions: the text hovers between “evening” and “night” (set at either end of the poem); “Looking in” and “Looking out”; “what I’d been previously” and “I really feel none of these”.
Ultimately, the poem goes full circle musically with the /aʊt/ rhymes, harkening back to the first stanza, but simultaneously dismisses any tangible certainty in a final couplet of oppositions that remain unresolved, and the poem ends as it began, passing through:
“pasts & futures caught
between that final, tiny sunburst
& the long beyond of doubt.”
~ Pierre Antoine Zahnd