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FIRST THINGS TO HAND, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


Robert Pinsky's "First Things to Hand" is an intricate meditation on the ubiquity and elusiveness of the profound, exploring how the essence of deep thoughts and concepts can be found in the mundane. The poem embodies a philosophical pursuit, grappling with the enigma of where essential truths reside-whether in "the skull kept on the desk" or "nowhere." Pinsky navigates this tension through a series of images and anecdotes that point to the paradoxical omnipresence of the elusive.

The poem's opening lines evoke a tone of contemplation and quandary, setting the stage for the mental gymnastics that follow. The "skull kept on the desk" could be a literal object, a memento mori reminding us of mortality, or a metaphor for the thoughts we cannot escape, held within our own "skulls." The "spider-pod in the dust" introduces the theme of the overlooked or insignificant, suggesting that the philosophical or divine might be hiding in plain sight, in the ordinary.

The invocation of Socrates and Buddha brings in a rich tapestry of philosophical and spiritual undertones. Socrates' routine of leaving and coming back to find himself "waiting / On the doorstep" mirrors the ceaseless quest for self-knowledge, an eternal return to one's existential doorstep. Similarly, Buddha isn't just the stick used to clear the path but also "the dog-doo you flick / Away with it." Enlightenment is both the process and the obstacles within it, found "nowhere or in each / Several thing you touch."

The examples transition into more contemporary symbols like "the dollar bill" and "the button / That works the television," and even in a seemingly banal post-coital joke among "American men." These ordinary objects and moments hold within them the capacity for both "proximate, intimate" enlightenment and "shade of grief." The exploration comes full circle with the lamp, an everyday object imbued with layers of symbolic meaning, from its "brass base" and "aura of illumination" to its "shade of grief" and "brazen" odor.

Pinsky ends on a note of self-reference- "The mind waiting in the mind / As in the first thing to hand." The search for meaning, for understanding, is as close as one's own consciousness. The phrase "first things to hand" speaks to the immediacy and accessibility of these profound truths; they are within reach, ready to be grasped, if one knows how to look.

Through this nuanced juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane, the extraordinary and the ordinary, Pinsky argues for a view of life where everything possesses the ability to enlighten or sadden us, where the spiritual and the philosophical are not remote concepts but part of our everyday lives. In doing so, the poem urges us to look closer, to consider the weight and significance hiding within the first things to hand.


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