Otherwise Commentary The poem Otherwise is short, simple and eloquent. The author, Cilla McQueen, describes two lovers that are located on “opposite” sides of the world. McQueen uses the title to emphasize the conflicts. The speaker’s emotions are expressed through two main themes; love and distance. Imagery and diction maximize the emotions associated with these themes. Additionally, she uses many literary devices throughout the poem for effect. From the onset, the title Otherwise is vital to the poem foreshadowing conflict, contrast and turmoil. The word sets the scene for two different sides of love.
In this case, love is not presented as joyful and precarious but rather as agonizing and painful due to distance. It is the title that influences the structure of the poem and emphasizes the contrasting ideas. A physical divide can be observed between the conscious state of reality, stanza 1, and the subconscious state of dream, stanza 2; each stanza representing two very different perspectives of love. Finally, the title is intimately connected to the poem as it is echoed and punctuated in line 5, “where water spirals and the moon waxes otherwise. ” The main themes found in the poem revolve around love and distance.
Love is the predominant theme. It is the distance that causes the suffering and the agony. The poem opens with the speaker stating, “I come from an opposite country from yours”. The reader is immediately involved in the love story understanding that the lovers are located in different countries as mentioned in line 6 “stars assemble in unfamiliar patterns”. Constellations give different perspectives depending on where one is in the world. The distance quantified by the footnote clarifies the “opposite country” means “the speaker comes from the other hemisphere. This vast distance can infer that the lovers are from different cultures. As the speaker’s love for her lover becomes apparent so too does the distress and torment that the couple faces due to both physical and emotional distance. McQueen uses imagery and diction to accentuate the contrasts between the state of reality, stanza 1, and the state of dream, stanza 2. The author utilizes simple structure coupled with a rich, descriptive vocabulary to compare the speaker’s life at present to a metaphorical life with her lover in the future.
She parallels her life to “water spirals”. The water spirals represent the circular pattern of the speaker’s life. This monotone pattern is due to the longing for her lover. The spiral revolves around a central point; for the speaker this central point is her lover living on another hemisphere. The reader imagines the speaker’s daily activities to be repetitive, dull and without purpose as she awaits her lover’s arrival. This metaphor symbolizes the complexity of both love and nature; both elements are beautiful in all their intricacies.
On the contrary, the second stanza presents the desired, hoped for, dream images, “we would walk together quietly right to the very end”. This passage incorporates the “would” aspect to illustrate that this is a metaphysical situation conjuring up a happy and hopeful image of the two lovers walking along the beach until “the end”, death. These powerful images and choice of words underline the differences between the state of reality and the state of dream effectively expressing how painful it is to be apart and the bliss of being together forever. The scenes are vivid and clear making the reader feel empathy for the speaker.
There are a variety of literary devices that emphasize certain aspects of the poem. Firstly, the speaker expresses his thoughts in the first person; the verses are free. There is no iambic pentameter or rhyming pattern. This style gives a conversational, intimate tone; as if the reader is eavesdropping in on the two lovers. Secondly, this informal tone is contrasted by the formal and decisive shape of the poem. Furthermore, it is evident by the physical appearance of the poem that that a conflict of the settings exists, “I watch often not traffic or television but hour by hour the huge tide”.
The speaker compares two different lifestyles; one of the speaker situated on a coast; soothing, relaxing and simple. Meanwhile her lover is located in a city; loud, tense and complex. The physical divide in the poem presents the conflict in the settings inferring the conflict in the relationship. This conflict is reflected by the change in tone from stanza 1 to stanza 2. The first stanza is full of facts as she sadly describes her reality while the second stanza is full of emotions and hope expressing the metaphysical situation the lovers would be in if united. If you were with me now” underlines the ambiguity of when “now” will come. As the author guides the reader through the relationship, she dreams of the setting and activities giving hope that the lovers “would” do such things once together. An interesting simile is used if and when the speaker’s lover comes back to her “favorite beach”. This symbolizes home, the nest; the beach represents for the speaker a place of nurturing, peace, safety and joy. Enjambment is also used effectively to communicate the flow of feelings.
This device along with little punctuation enables the reader to advance without limits. The only punctuation is found in the form of a few periods to permit the reader to pause but no capitals follow such as, “sliding through. if you were here”. This technique permits thoughts to continue. Moreover, alliteration is used throughout the poem. The letter “w” suggests soothing and comforting feelings, such as, “where water”, “waxes”, “were with”, “walk”, “wheel”, and “we would walk”. This reassuring sound represents what love is supposed to be warm, kind and supportive.
All of the above devices combined make the complex concepts of love and distance clear and very well thought out. In conclusion, McQueen does a brilliant job at expressing the abovementioned two themes using the title to foreshadow, imagery and diction to empathize with the speaker and the many literary devices to present the emotions of the desperate speaker yearning for her lover to return. All devices are masterfully coordinated to show the sad reality of the speaker’s life and the hope of being reunited with her lover. (1037)
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