Line 1, part 1

You could clone Robert Lowell’s “Eye and Tooth” from its first line:

My whole eye was sunset red,

For instance, the poem starts with the Trochaic meter it abandons and returns to throughout the poem.  It fluctuates between a traditional, carry-all-before-it meter and a prosy and truncated metrical collapse.  The poem’s Trochaic opening fits the meter and syllable count of Blake’s famous “Tyger, tyger, burning bright.”  But the meter begins to fail in the first stanza (“darkly / as through”), anticipating when we later learn that the narrator’s “eyes began to fail” from a moral basis when he was young.  There’s always a foreshortened line, a slant rhyme (the first stanza’s throbbed / globe, for instance), or an extra unstressed syllable to resist the meter and to put the breaks on any progress.

The first line contains examples of the two devices that will carry the poem aurally when the meter fails it: hard vowel contrasts and consonance / assonance “elbows.”

Hard vowels start here with the i – o – i of “My whole eye.”  And sunset red has both assonance (soft e sound) and consonance (the two s’s in “sunset”) – the first of the assonance / consonance elbows that keep the poem turning in on itself.

“Whole,” the poem’s second word, works on at least five levels.  We see the eye as a globe and not just as a surface – the white, the pupil, and the iris – that we might otherwise see.  “Sunset” reinforces the spherical, and so does “goldfish globe” three lines later.  These spheres anticipate the doorknob on which the poem’s theme of retribution turns: eye as a setting sun, eye as an unwashed goldfish globe, and eye as telescope.

“Whole” and “hole” are homonyms, and it’s a sphere’s hole – a keyhole – that gets the younger narrator in trouble later in the poem (and earlier in life).

“Whole” also keeps first line’s meter Trochaic, and it ties to the second line’s “old” with a near-rhyme.

“Whole eye” hints at the religious notion of eyes and sight, too, and Lowell later draws on some well-known biblical analogies in both the Old and New Testaments that use eyes and sight.  The King James refers over and over to Jesus making people physically “whole.”  And the whole eye, the single eye, of course, is a metaphor for something spiritual that I’ve never been able to pin down:

If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

It’s precisely this moral cast of the eye that the poem addresses.

The first line’s notion of the narrator’s eye as a setting sun also introduces the motif of the narrator’s inability to get beyond his depression.  Line 1, part 2 is next.

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