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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

MOTTLED TUESDAY, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


"Mottled Tuesday," by John Ashbery, reads like an intricate web of fragmented thoughts and obscure allusions, defying straightforward interpretation. This complex texture serves as a backdrop to explore a range of themes from the arbitrariness of existence to the fluidity of identity and the constant search for meaning. The poem opens with a paradox: "Something was about to go laughably wrong, / whether directly at home or here." These lines immediately set up an atmosphere of ironic tragedy. Whether something "wrong" happens in a familiar setting or an unfamiliar one, it's the looming specter of absurdity that pervades.

Ashbery's choice of words like "random shoal" and "hail of references" suggest a world that is both transient and overloaded with meaning. It's as though existence is constantly pleading for attention "with its eyes," only to eventually "break loose" into a chaotic array of contexts. This tension between pleading and breaking loose might indicate a cycle of expectations and disappointments, a never-ending ebb and flow in human experience. There's a certain detachment with which the speaker addresses this-adding "one more scoop / to the pile of retail"-as if to say that even in the commerce of human interaction, one more failure or misunderstanding hardly makes a difference.

In the next stanzas, Ashbery deploys playful and idiosyncratic language: "my sinking laundry boat, point of departure, / my white pomegranate, my swizzle stick." These seemingly disjointed phrases read like an inventory of symbols, each with an unclear but possibly significant meaning. Whether they represent lost opportunities, passions, or responsibilities is open to interpretation. Yet the speaker seems to embrace them all, acknowledging that "We're leaving again of our own volition / for bogus patterned plains streaked by canals, / maybe." It's an uncertain journey, but one they're willing to undertake.

What follows is a portrayal of "Amorous ghosts" that pursue but often fail to align with the travelers. These ghosts could be symbolic of past relationships, memories, or even former versions of the self that continue to haunt the present. However, their aimlessness is noted-they often get "confused and / forget to stop when we do." This allusion to confused pursuits adds another layer to the poem, perhaps critiquing the human tendency to romanticize the past or to create meaning where there is none.

Finally, the poem concludes with a somewhat sarcastic hope for future coherence: "Here's hoping the referral goes tidily, O brother." The speaker advises to "Chime authoritatively with the pop-ups and extras," suggesting that even amidst confusion, one should act with authority. "Keep your units pliable and folded," perhaps advises flexibility in navigating life, while "the recourse a mere specter" possibly acknowledges that ultimate answers or solutions are elusive.

"Mottled Tuesday" reflects the chaotic, messy, and often confusing nature of human experience. It doesn't offer solutions but instead provides a mirror to the reader's own attempt at cobbling together meaning from fragments. Ashbery masterfully captures the dizzying experience of modern life, leaving us with a portrayal that is as confusing as it is compelling, as mottled as the Tuesdays we've all known.


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