I like a home with lots of windows.  I like to look outside.  I like outside, but I like to look outside even more.  I am a potted plant.

Lowell’s narrator in “Eye and Tooth” is, too.  He never goes outside, though he refers to things just outside, things that come inside his house and his body.

Nothing can dislodge
the house . . .

Of course, the house, we go on to learn, or the doorknob in the house, is where he lost his eye and his tooth, the former first figuratively and later literally, and the latter literally.

“Eye and Tooth” scales from body and its components (eye and tooth) to house and its components (doorknob and bathroom) to outside and its components (rain, roof, and hedge) so that the narrator never escapes.  Watch stanzas three through five in this nine-stanza poem:

Outside, the summer rain,
a simmer of rot and renewal,
fell in pinpricks.
Even new life is fuel.

My eyes throb.
Nothing can dislodge
the house with my first tooth
noosed to a knot in the doorknob.

Nothing can dislodge
the triangular blotch
of rot on the red roof,
a cedar hedge, or the shade of a hedge.

The only thing dislodged, after all, is the tooth.   Because the tooth is dislodged (executed, as it were, for the sin of the eye we learn about later), the house can’t be dislodged.  The moral impossibility is reinforced by the logical and ironic impossibility of dislodging a house, itself a lodging.

The house scales down to a blotch, suggesting sin and close in sound and sense to the earlier and later “rot” as well as the first stanza’s “unwashed goldfish globe.”  Wonderful assonance and consonance.  “Blotch” also re-shushes the “sh” and “dge” sounds in its stanza’s “dislodge,” “hedge,” and “shade.”

This blotch, this sin, is the poem’s nub.  Nothing dislodges the narrator’s guilt.

But the poet’s prerogative to scale up and down so is only acknowledged in that softening, dreamy transition, the final line in that fifth stanza:

a cedar hedge, or the shade of a hedge.

The “or” is the poem’s first direct acknowledgement of the poetic imagination and suggests the imagination’s complicity in the poem’s retribution.  But this softening, this movement from a hedge (itself only suggested by the cedar roof’s blotch) to only the hedge’s shade, also amounts to a three-way scale, and in that soft rush we move fully into the poetic imagination.  One senses night (outside), or a nap (inside), in which the objects inside and out may assert themselves more strongly.

And we’re not disappointed.  The imperial, ascetic hawk makes his appearance to quote, raven-like, the harrowing “eye for an eye” scripture.  But he’s not outside rapping on the narrator’s chamber door.  He’s only in the “birdbook there.”  (The birdbook is the Bible at some level.)  The hawk, which is the climax of the poem’s imagery and figurative language, presages the narrative climax, which is the boy’s illicit use of the house’s doorknob in the eighth stanza to spy on the ladies’ bodies.

This first “or” anticipates the only other “or,” which in the poem’s final stanza anchors a three-word summary of the earlier imagery: “waters or flames.”  The implacable “waters or flames” well summarizes, for instance, the poem’s third stanza:

Outside, the summer rain,
a simmer of rot and renewal,
fell in pinpricks.
Even new life is fuel.

But “waters or flames” compresses imagery into judgment, though the “or,” as opposed to an “and,” keeps the poem’s light touch and acknowledges, by echoing the first “or,” the role of poetic imagination in the narrator’s guilt and loss.

Because poetic imagination, and by extension the poem itself, is as complicit in the narrator’s moral and physical loss as the house and the world beyond it.

I’ve selected Robert Lowell’s “Eye and Tooth” for my celebration of SoloPoMo.

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