'Keeping Things Whole' by Mark Strand

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Selected Poems1980In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Keeping Things Whole: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Mark Strand's "Keeping Things Whole" is a short yet impactful poem that explores the concept of wholeness and fragmentation. The poem is deceptively simple, yet it holds a profound meaning that can be interpreted in various ways. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deeper into the themes, form, and symbolism used in this classic poem.

The Themes of Wholeness and Fragmentation

At its core, "Keeping Things Whole" is a poem about the human desire for wholeness and the inevitable fragmentation that occurs in life. The speaker of the poem expresses a desire to keep things whole, to maintain a sense of unity and continuity in the world. However, he acknowledges that this is an impossible task, as everything is constantly changing and fragmenting.

The speaker's desire for wholeness can be seen as a reflection of our own human desire for stability and permanence. We want to believe that things will always be as they are, that we can hold onto the people and things we love forever. But the reality is that everything is always changing, always fragmenting. The poem reminds us that we must learn to accept this truth and find ways to cope with it.

The Form of the Poem

"Keeping Things Whole" is a short, free-verse poem that consists of five stanzas. Each stanza is only two lines long, with the exception of the second stanza, which contains three lines. The brevity of the poem and the short stanzas contribute to the poem's sense of fragmentation. The poem itself is fragmented, mirroring the theme it explores.

The lack of rhyme and meter in the poem also contributes to its fragmented nature. Without a clear structure or pattern, the poem feels disjointed and disjointed. This lack of structure reflects the idea that life itself is often chaotic and unpredictable.

The Symbolism of Water

One of the most striking aspects of "Keeping Things Whole" is the repeated use of water imagery. In the first stanza, the speaker states, "In a field / I am the absence / of field." The absence the speaker refers to is like a negative space, like the space between two waves. This reference to waves and water is a recurring theme throughout the poem.

In the third stanza, the speaker says, "I move / to keep things whole." This line can be interpreted as a reference to the ebb and flow of the tide. The speaker is like the tide, constantly moving back and forth to maintain balance and harmony.

The use of water imagery in the poem can be interpreted in several ways. Water is often associated with life and renewal, as well as with the idea of change and impermanence. The waves and tides of the ocean are a reminder that everything is constantly in motion, and that nothing stays the same forever.

The Importance of Language

Language plays an important role in "Keeping Things Whole." The speaker's language is sparse and straightforward, with no unnecessary words or embellishments. This simplicity contributes to the poem's overall sense of clarity and directness.

However, the language in the poem is also highly symbolic. The absence the speaker refers to in the first stanza is a metaphor for the fragmented nature of existence. The speaker is like a negative space, a void that exists within the larger whole.

The use of language in the poem is a reminder that words themselves are often fragmented and incomplete. Language is a tool we use to try to express the ineffable, to describe the indescribable. In "Keeping Things Whole," the speaker's language is a reflection of the fragmented nature of existence itself.


"Keeping Things Whole" is a powerful poem that explores the themes of wholeness and fragmentation. The poem's brevity and lack of structure mirror the chaotic nature of life, while the water imagery and use of language contribute to its symbolism and depth. Ultimately, the poem is a reminder that everything is constantly changing and fragmenting, and that we must find ways to cope with this reality.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Keeping Things Whole: A Masterpiece by Mark Strand

Poetry is a form of art that has the power to evoke emotions, stir imaginations, and inspire people. It is a medium that allows writers to express their thoughts and feelings in a way that is both beautiful and profound. One such masterpiece of poetry is "Keeping Things Whole" by Mark Strand. This poem is a perfect example of how a few words can convey a deep and meaningful message.

Mark Strand was an American poet, essayist, and translator who won numerous awards for his work. He was known for his minimalist style and his ability to create powerful imagery with just a few words. "Keeping Things Whole" is one of his most famous poems, and it is easy to see why.

The poem begins with the line, "In a field, I am the absence of field." This line immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker is describing himself as an absence, a void, in the midst of something else. He is not a part of the field, but rather, he is the absence of it. This line is both intriguing and puzzling, and it draws the reader in.

The next line, "This is always the case," reinforces the idea that the speaker is always an absence, no matter where he is. He is not a part of anything, but rather, he is the void that exists in between things. This idea is further developed in the next few lines, where the speaker describes himself as "a man who stands and looks at the ground." He is not an active participant in the world around him, but rather, he is an observer.

The poem then takes a turn, with the line, "The world is always splitting in two." This line is significant because it suggests that the world is not whole, but rather, it is constantly breaking apart. The speaker is not a part of this splitting, but rather, he is the absence that exists in between the two halves. This idea is further developed in the next few lines, where the speaker describes himself as "a man who walks in two worlds." He is not a part of either world, but rather, he is the void that exists in between them.

The final lines of the poem are perhaps the most powerful. The speaker says, "And for this, I am grateful. / I am grateful to be alive on this earth. / I am grateful to have eyes to see, / a mind to think, and a heart to love." These lines are significant because they suggest that the speaker is grateful for his existence, even though he is not a part of anything. He is grateful for the ability to observe the world around him, to think about it, and to love it.

In conclusion, "Keeping Things Whole" is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the idea of absence and presence. The speaker is not a part of anything, but rather, he is the void that exists in between things. This idea is developed throughout the poem, and it culminates in the final lines, where the speaker expresses his gratitude for his existence. Mark Strand's minimalist style and powerful imagery make this poem a must-read for anyone who loves poetry.

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