From the beginning, “A Small Elegy” dramatically establishes that the speaker a stand-in for the poet, is by himself talking to himself. He was with other people, but now he is completely alone–his friends gone, his beloved sleeping elsewhere, unconscious, far away. The speaker is the sole operating consciousness mourning in a world where everyone else is asleep. Against the pitch-black darkness he starts saying things to himself, using white words, which I take to mean words that have a kind of unselfconscious purity about them.
He daydreams about his mother ,an “autumnal recollection”, and that in turn moves him back toward his childhood home where his mother seems still to preside–diminished now over an outmoded world. She is smaller, more vulnerable, someone to be protected. “Matku,” he says tenderly in Czech, “Mon maminku,” my little mommy, which the translator has rendered as “my diminutive mom. ” He imagines that after all these years she’s still sitting back there, quietly uncomplaining, thinking about his father who died so long ago.
It is the next moment in the poem, when the tense radically changes, that I find especially compelling. “And then she is skinning fruit for me,” he says, “I am in the room. Sitting right next to her. ” He doesn’t say “And then she was skinning fruit for me,” but instead finds himself catapulted into the past as a living present. He has been wrenched out of one time into another.
The amplitude of his feeling is nearly unbearable and he starts shaking his fist at God, using a child’s language, calling him a ”bully” because now he is aware that God has taken away so much, because so much is lost. And he then proceeds with the ruthlessness of a logical proposition to face what can no longer be evaded. “Because of all those hours I slept soundly, through calm nights,” he declares that is, because of all those nights when he was safe and unconscious.
Because of all the loved ones who are deep in dreams” That is, because of all those who are unconscious now, unaware of the peril that surrounds them he realizes that time is running out and announces: “I can’t stand being here by myself. The lamplight’s too strong. ” Here the lamplight becomes the emblem of a consciousness that is too much to bear, an isolation that is killing: “I am sowing grain on the headland. I will not live long. ” The recognition here is that what he is planting is endangered, imperiled, and vulnerable.
What he plants he will not be able to protect. The sowing of grain on the headland is his last gesture, his way of putting a message in a bottle when he knows he won’t last much longer. The poem concludes with a terrible recognition. When I read it, my impulse is to wake up everyone around me everyone l love before it is too late. In conclusion this poem is just one stanza that contains twenty-four lines. The poet refers to the speaker as ‘I’ and he also uses the words ‘my’ and ‘myself’ which lead me to the conclusion that this poem was written in the first person.
The speaker in this poem recalls his past after his friends have left and his “darling” (wife, girlfriend, child) is asleep. He first begins to think of his mother then gets to his father. The speaker is empty inside because he has suffered so much great loss. He has suffered so much that he curses God and calls him a “bully” and he says to himself that he cant stand being alone for any longer and he also says that he will not live long which may imply that his life may end sooner than it has to.