Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Otherwise" by Jane Kenyon

Rather than using elaborate metaphors or abstract imagery to describe her cancer, Kenyon employed a realistic, appreciative tone and use simplistic, concrete imagery to describe her life. The point of her poem wasn’t to inspire people to make the most of everyday; instead she suggests that even though she knows her life is going to drastically change eventually, she is just going to live her life the way she always had until “otherwise” actually happens.

She uses past tense to describe each action she did throughout the day. By using past tense she shows a completed, concrete action. This is what she did and now that action is over. In contrast, her repeated phrase, “it might have been otherwise” uses the present progressive tense, imploring “otherwise” as a state that began some time ago but is still continuing. The word “otherwise” represents the unknown consequences and life that accompany her cancer. By using the present progressive “have been” she is expressing that the debilitations, consequences, and lifestyle due to cancer are continuing and may happen at any point in time. These actions have no definite ending unlike the actions she expressed using the past tense which are no longer continuing. This contrast between past tense and the use of “have been otherwise” shows the contrast in her life now and her future life as the cancer progresses. The word “might” coupled with “otherwise” furthers the indefinite and irresolute feel of life with cancer. They contrast with her concrete examples of what she did during the day, expressing the uncertainty of her future life as the cancer progresses verses the certainty of her life now. However, at the end of the poem, Kenyon changes this repeated phrase adding “I know” to “it will be otherwise.” In doing so, she emphasizes her certainty of the uncertain happening one day.

I thought “Otherwise” took a refreshing approach to dealing with a disease. Even though the poem was specifically about her cancer, by never mentioning that she had any kind of disease, Kenyon allows every reader to empathize with her, rather than gaining merely the sympathy of readers. Because of this, the reader is able to adopt the same appreciative, realistic outlook on life that Kenyon has.

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