This isn’t my all-time favorite poem, but it is close. Below the poem is my explication of how I think the poem and the poet create meaning. Of course, part of it is what I am bringing to the poem, but much of it is the realization of the genus of the poet Jonathan Potter. I’ll bet his wife (or girlfriend) loves this poem, also:
Before you read the poem, or while you read the poem, listen to Garrison Keillor’s interpretation. The sense is always, first and foremost, in the sound.”
Start at 3:30
You and I
You are a warm front
that moved in from the north,
a blind spot bearing beautiful gifts,
a garden in the air, a golden filament
inscribed with the name of God’s hunting dog,
a magic heirloom mistaken for a feather duster,
a fountain in a cow pasture, an anachronistic anagram
annoyed by anonymity, a dollar in the pocket
of a winter coat in summer.
And I am the discoverer of you.
You and I
Surprise! This poem is built as a cascade of metaphors, falling one over the other, over the other, until the first word in the title and the first word in the poem become the last word of the poem. It is a cascade of air, not water. Each image suggests a discovery. The images start as nebulous air images and then gain substance; they give way to concrete images as the poem progresses, just as the relationship of the poet to his lover gains substance when he recognizes how his love is materializing for his lover: he realizes her beauty coming into his awareness.
“You and I” describes the poet’s surprise as he realizes just how special his love is. The first images evoke surprise: “a warm front that moved in from the north.” Fronts (air and moisture) tend to move in quickly and this front is a surprise because warm fronts don’t usually move in from the north.
He is surprised as her beautiful gifts materialize, having been hidden just out of his sight, or better, they have been there all along, and he just notices them. Potter uses alliteration (blind, bearing, beautiful) to highlight the growing awareness of her presence as a gift: nothing is apparent (blind), something is coming (bearing), and the gift is revealed (beautiful). The placement of the word “gift” at the end of the line emphasizes the surprise process when he at last notices her.
The poet uses “gift” to start the alliteration of the next two lines: (garden, golden, and God.) The garden in the sky image evokes beautiful star-filled heavens, whereas the golden filament inscribed with the name of God’s hunting dog is the divine connection of loyalty and love between the poet and his love connected by nothing less than the thinnest of connective tissue: a golden filament ties him to the divine and to God’s hunting dog. God’s hunting dog helps the poet find the love and loyalty of his love that the poet can’t discover on his own.
The feather duster transitions the poem to more concrete images. Dusting off the everyday routine of their relationship, he discovers a covert love passed down to him as a magic heirloom that has been passed from her family. She comes from a loving past, and he is surprised by the revelation of that love.
The “fountain in the cow pasture” is a concrete image of the sublime being made manifest from the mundane. There is the surprise at the discovery of water (an image of the presence of God) flowing from the mundane (a cow pasture).
“An anachronistic anagram annoyed by anonymity” is a fun attribution to the feelings of the “You” in the poem. She is annoyed her presence in the poet’s life is not recognized immediately. He is a little slow on the uptake of her love for him; it takes him awhile to appreciate who she is (the anagram).
The penultimate surprise is the dollar lost in the winter coat (a reference to the warm front surprise), until he discovers it in the warm summer of their love. In other words, as their relationship grows, he continues to be surprised by her love and her presence.
The second stanza’s meaning comes directly from the form of the poem. The poem is about two people discovering love (You and I). The first stanza is the “You” of the poem. It starts with the word “You.” The second stanza is the “I” of the poem. Notice how the title is used in the first words of each stanza: “You” as the first word of the title, “And I” as the first two words in the second stanza. The poet completes the relationship of the title and as the discoverer of “You” (his love).
So what is the back-story on this poem? I have no idea. What is my take on this poem? It is one of my all-time favorite love poems because it reflects how I first discovered my love for my high school girlfriend, and it describes the discovery of when I first knew I was in love with my wife Eva.
If you actually stayed with me this far, let me know how how you liked this poem and this explication. Don’t be shy: I feel like I am writing in a vacuum.