baah asked in Arts & HumanitiesPoetry · 9 years ago

Need help understanding a poem?

Here is this neat poem by Donald Justice:

"In Memory of the Unknown Poet, Robert Boardman Vaughn":

But the essential advantage for a poet is not, to have a beautiful world with which to deal: it is to be able to see beneath both beauty and ugliness; to see the boredom, and the horror, and the glory.


It was his story. It would always be his story.

It followed him; it overtook him finally—

The boredom, and the horror, and the glory.

Probably at the end he was not yet sorry,

Even as the boots were brutalizing him in the alley.

It was his story. It would always be his story,

Blown on a blue horn, full of sound and fury,

But signifying, O signifying magnificently

The boredom, and the horror, and the glory.

I picture the snow as falling without hurry

To cover the cobbles and the toppled ashcans completely.

It was his story. It would always be his story.

Lately he had wandered between St. Mark’s Place and the Bowery,

Already half a spirit, mumbling and muttering sadly.

O the boredom, and the horror, and the glory.

All done now. But I remember the fiery

Hypnotic eye and the raised voice blazing with poetry.

It was his story and would always be his story—

The boredom, and the horror, and the glory.

i really like the imagery, but I can only understand the poem in a really superficial way. I feel as though there are allusions or symbols in this poem I don't see. How would you interpret the poem, the images/ideas, etc? Thank you!

3 Answers

  • 9 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    The poem (it's a villanelle, as you can see from the number of lines and the pattern of repetitions) uses an epigraph from the writings of T.S. Eliot, but it's obviously not about Eliot. As the title clearly indicates, it's about a much more obscure poet. I'm not familiar with Vaughn's life and work, but I assume from what Justice writes here that he was a New Yorker who led a life marked by unhappiness and suffering, and who died violently. The fifth stanza suggests that he may have had problems with mental illness or with addiction to alcohol and/or other drugs.

    The mention of a "blue horn" in the third stanza may suggest that Vaughn was a jazz musician or a jazz fan. At the very least, those words tell us that Vaughn's life was marked by the combination of grief and artistry that jazz so often expresses.

    Near the end of Shakespeare's "Macbeth," the title character describes life in these terms:

    Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

    And then is heard no more: it is a tale

    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

    Signifying nothing.

    Justice alludes to that speech in stanza three, but declares that Vaughn's life signified much more than nothing.

    The Eliot epigraph talks about horror and glory in a fairly abstract, theoretical way. This poem suggests that Vaughn was an artist for whom horror and glory both were not mere poetic abstractions, but day-to-day realities.

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  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    Blown on a blue horn, , O signifying magnificently

    The boredom, and the horror, and the glory.

    This could be how the speaker felt Eliot wrote, "blowing on a blue horn", blue like in "blues" and sadness. The allusion to Shakespeare's Macbeth, "full of sound and fury, / But signifying" is perhaps something that Elliot also used in poems. The "But signifying" leaves out "nothing," as in "But signifying nothing" which is how Shakespeare wrote the lines. Either this was done to mean that Eliot signified magnificently "something," which would also discredit the universality of Shakespeare's insights.

    Eliot didn't die by being beaten in an ally but of emphysema, so this line is a metaphor for how his critics viewed his work. So there wasn't so much "horror" in his life, perhaps just boredom and glory.

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  • 4 years ago

    In fact there was a obscure poet named Robert ( Bobby) Vaughn who was with Castro and Che during their days in the Sierras, was a junkie, drunk, and cough syrup addict, lost an eye somewhere, and claimed to have known some great jazz musicians. I met him in Key West in the Sixties and rode around with him one night in a big *** white caddy convertible as he was shooting a brace of pistols off into the air. Wild and crazy guy.

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