from “Parallax”

This thin edge of December
Wears out meagrely in the
Cold muds, rains, intolerable nauseas of the street.
Closed doors, where are your keys?
Closed hearts, does your embitteredness endure forever?
Afternoon settles on the town,
                       each hour long as a street—

In the rooms
A sombre carpet broods, stagnates beneath deliberate steps:
Here drag a foot, there a foot, drop sighs, look round for nothing, shiver.
Sunday creeps in silence
Under suspended smoke,
And curdles defiant in unreal sleep.
The gas-fire puffs, consumes, ticks out its minor chords—
And at the door
I guess the arrested knuckles of the one-time friend,
One foot on the stair delaying, that turns again.


This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on December 11, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

Nancy Cunard’s book-length poem Parallax was published in 1925 by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press. David Ayers, professor of Modernism and critical theory at the University of Kent, writes in Modernism: A Short Introduction (Blackwell, 2004) that of Cunard’s “small oeuvre,” her most interesting work is “her long poem Parallax, which turns out to be a sustained look at [T. S.] Eliot and a genuinely novel literary form. [. . .] There are large segments of Parallax which allude to some of the best-known elements of Eliot’s work, in particular to ‘The Waste Land,’ ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’ and ‘Preludes.’” Against the view that Cunard’s work is merely derivative of Eliot’s, Ayers concludes that “Cunard has created a new rhetorical form, over which she has suspended the name ‘parallax,’ in which a systematic reworking and re-presentation of the existing material of a contemporary is used to create a new work. The purpose of this work is to create a kind of third person who is the product of Cunard’s reading of Eliot in terms of herself. This hybrid third person is gendered male to distance him from Cunard, yet elements of her own character and of her own history are combined with the reworked and reimagined material from Eliot in such a way that this melancholy bohemian is present as a reading of both Eliot and Cunard [. . .].”