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HOW POEMS WORK: Late Fragment by Raymond Carver Add to ...

Late Fragment BY RAYMOND CARVER

And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth. Raymond Carver From A New Path to the Waterfall, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989.

I carry this poem around with me, along with an old penny, a "luckystone" from the back of the eye of a Sheephead fish, a few sprigs of Scottish heather and a slip of paper that reads "Notice you were first." Each object, in its own way, is a comfort; they are also, quite literally, fragments, or more accurately, fragmentary representations of larger relationships, experiences and travels. In poetic terms, a fragment is defined as "a piece or scrap from a larger whole that is either lost or unfinished."

Late Fragment is the final poem in the poet and short story writer Raymond Carver's (1938-1988) last published work, A New Path to the Waterfall, a collection that was written while he was dying of cancer. I value the Carver poem for a number of reasons. Mostly, I admire its simplicity and its poignancy. There is no measure of irony or artifice in it. There is also an underlying sense of celebration -- this, in the affirmative "I did" and in the realization that when all is said and done, to call oneself beloved and to feel oneself beloved (a kind of proof) is enough.

Poetic dialogues can be read in a number of ways, and this poem is no exception. Is the poet asking himself these questions, reflecting on the life he's lived? Or, is the first voice, the questioning voice, a loved one, a stranger, an omnipotent force? I have always, despite being wary of biographical inference in a work, read this poem as if Raymond Carver were asking these questions of himself. There is a strong element of recognition in the words "even so." As if all that the "even so" implies -- a life filled with a measure of sadness or failure -- is understood implicitly by the person asking "Did you get what you wanted?" The initial "And" of the poem is so subtle, as if we are simply picking up the thread of a conversation in progress. Overall, the diction is plain and unselfconscious, except for "beloved," which has a devotional feeling to it, a timelessness.

There are other poems in Carver's collection which feel like moments of time preserved: His Bathrobe Pockets Stuffed With Notes consists of a series of anecdotes, my favourite being: "Remember Haydn's 104 symphonies. Not all of them were great. But there were 104 of them."

Late Fragment is, in that light, also a statement of accomplishment. Lorca once said he wrote to be loved. Gertrude Stein admitted she wrote for praise. William Faulkner said writers write for glory. In Late Fragment the "I" is asked, "And what did you want?", and the response is: "To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on this earth." Here "beloved" connotes everything from adoration to esteem to self-recognition. (And ultimately, the reiteration of "beloved" makes the poem feel so complete that it reads more like a coda than anything fragmentary or "broken.")

The certitude of these last two lines, of the "call" that becomes something felt, is another reason I carry this poem around with me. Although that certainty is wonderfully undercut by the line break after "to feel myself," a pause that reflects the "even so" because it is rife with the potential to be anything. How rarely we get exactly what we ask for, how exigent the wait, but how wonderful when we do, as in the next line when the word "beloved" is reiterated, when what the speaker in the poem has desired of his time on earth turns out to be what he felt. \

Aislinn Hunter's poetry collection Into the Early Hours won the Gerald Lampert Award in 2002. Her novel Stay was published in October. She's at work on a new book of poems.

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