Testimonial Back when the earth was new and heaven just a whisper, back when the names of things hadn't had time to stick; back when the smallest breezes melted summer into autumn, when all the poplars quivered sweetly in rank and file... the world called, and I answered. Each glance ignited to a gaze. I caught my breath and called that life, swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet. I was pirouette and flourish, I was filigree and flame. How could I count my blessings when I didn't know their names? Back when everything was still to come, luck leaked out everywhere. I gave my promise to the world, and the world followed me here.
Dawn Revisited Imagine you wake up with a second chance: The blue jay hawks his pretty wares and the oak still stands, spreading glorious shade. If you don't look back, the future never happens. How good to rise in sunlight, in the prodigal smell of biscuits-- eggs and sausage on the grill. The whole sky is yours to write on, blown open to a blank page. Come on, shake a leg! You'll never know who's down there, frying those eggs, if you don't get up and see.
More Poems about Chances (and other things) by Rita Dove
This post is part of a series celebrating the work of These two poems are from Rita Dove’s 1999 collection On the Bus with Rosa Parks. You may read more about Rita Dove’s life and work here.
Also don’t miss her new book, published August, 2021, called Playlist for the Apocalypse. If that’s not an appropriate title for a book published in 2021, I don’t know what is.
These two poems are about chances we encounter in life.
Note: Don’t read my ideas until you take some time to read and reflect on these poems for yourself! Poetry is personal!
Response to “Testimonial”, a poem about first chances
Both of these poems are about chances. In the first poem, “Testimonial”, the speaker looks back on childhood, or at least youth, when life seems blissful and full of good things. The youth believes that these things never end.
What actually happens in life isn’t clear, but the last line of the poem implies that reality does not match expectations: “I gave my promise to the world,/and the world followed me here.” Wherever the speaker is, it isn’t a place that the speaker wants to be.
To make sure that the reader notices the contrast between the last line and the rest of the poem, Dove every so slightly alteres the rhythm of the last line of the poem, which makes it end on a slightly faltering note. As readers, we don’t know for sure what reality life has brought, but we can guess. The subtlety of the technique is just enough to make us question.
Response to “Dawn Revisited”, a poem about second chances
“Dawn Revisted” ostensibly starts with a second chance, but that is an illusion. Actually, in “Dawn Revisited” every day is a new first chance, a trick we achieve by never looking back.
It’s hard to understand how not looking back keeps one ever getting to the end, but I think the point is the important of living in the present. That’s a concept I can support!
The day is beautiful and belongs to the speaker, the food smells wonderful, and also someone great is downstairs cooking it.
“Testimonial” and “Dawn Revisited”, Poems about Chances
Unlike the speaker in “Testimonial”, the speaker in “Dawn Revisited” doesn’t become saddened or jaded by life’s disappointments because the speaker has learned not to let the past influence the present.
Once we compare the past and present, we started to become jaded or fearful. We don’t enjoy today’s present because we are comparing it to the past, which which we long for. Ironically, because we were not enjoying the past when we LIVED the past, we didn’t appreciate it then either.
In “Dawn Revisited”, the speaker tells us to get out of bed and go see what joys the day has to bring. The speaker in “Testimonial” carries the past like a backpack filled with lead.
“Testimonial” and “Dawn Revisited” are the last two poems in the section of On the Bus with Rosa Park called “Freedom: Bird’s-Eye View”. The speakers in both poems definitely have freedom; the question centers on what the speakers have done with it.
The message Dove leaves with; however, in “Dawn Revisited”, is to make the most of each day and to take life as it comes. That’s a sentiment I can live with.
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