The ideas in ‘Parallel Paths’ by Kevin Clark are shaped by metaphors in order to enhance the effect that ordinary language cannot achieve. Metaphors give an entirely new dimension to the thought or the philosophy of life, love, and loss in this poem. It also allows the poet to explore hitherto unknown dimensions of expressions of ideas derived from nature and its relationship and impact on human lives.
The poet compels the readers to look beyond the apparent lives of the two couples in this poem. The poet’s approach is direct and straightforward in addressing a person who has stepped out of his house after weeks for a walk with his wife. The strength of their relationship is apparent from the fact that they don’t have to hold hands in order to show their companionship. On the other hand, the other couple who is walking on a parallel path hold hands for sometime before ‘She lets/ go, and turns from him.’(8-9)
This may metaphorically mean that the woman is letting go of her memories, hopes, desires, and love that she might have had in her relationship. Letting go is always difficult especially if one has developed strong feelings for someone. It also gives a poignant edge to the poem because the reluctance to let go is obvious from her gestures.
The woman tries to face such awkward and difficult moments with grace and ease but the way she turns away from her guy shows her despair, hopelessness, and weakness. She is struggling to look confident but something inside her has made her weak and vulnerable, so much so that anyone can judge the weakness of her resolution. She is not quick at coming to a conclusion about breaking up; perhaps this is the reason why she slowly comes to a decision. It might be possible that she is thinking about any way or reason to continue her relationship, or she might be thinking about her immediate future after the breakup.
Nature holds a special place in metaphoric poetry. It is in fact a source of inspiration for the poet as he carefully uses the words to describe their underlying meanings: “How in their weather misery hangs/ faintly familiar in the cold shadows.” (10-11) The misery of the splitting couple has cast long shadows in their lives. The term shadows are used metaphorically to suggest that there is nothing substantial in their relationship. The stillness of shadows can be compared to death or end of a relationship.
There are other examples in the poem where the interrelationship of nature and human beings are discussed, as in: “The sky over their forest seems to laugh.” (13-14) The sky may refer to the heavens above where the destinies of people are pre-decided and the heavenly powers might be laughing at the frailty of human nature. The poet has carefully used the word ‘they’re’ repeatedly to signify that the worlds of the two couples are poles apart. ‘their weather” (10); “their forest” (14); and “their dog” (16) are some examples.
The unpredictability of time is suggested in the following line: “Such a capricious drug, / the present.” (23-24). Thus, nothing in this world is constant and life goes on, which gives a message of hope to the sad woman who is splitting up from her guy. Time heals all wounds but how it does so depends upon the individual circumstances of people and what they choose to do with their lives. The voice in the poem predicts for her: “Like yourself once, she will forget/ the names of old haunts…” (26-27)
The poet has described the transition in human attitudes, memories, and relationships as the time proceeds and this is how we grow and evolve after each little or big experience in our lives. Reading the body language of others is rather a simpler way than depending on words. This is where the limitation of words or language becomes significant. “Through metaphor, poetry either exceeds or dissolves the bonds of language and permits a consciousness which, whether it is visionary or visual, they express paradoxically as silence. Both find in metaphoric exchange the aggression that allows poetry to discover, prove and persuade.” (Kertzer, 36)
The happy woman holds out “a single mutable wildflower” (37) to her husband. The mutability of the wildflower yet again points to transition and refers to the fact that whatever his wife is offering him is not eternal. Whether it is her love or companionship, it is subject to transition. Thus, the happy and the sad couples both are walking towards an uncertain destiny.
However, a transition is essential for emotional and personal growth. In the second last line, the poet refers to an infinite space that exists “from here to that flower” (39) and it consists of numerous possibilities for both partners. He has actually extended the phase of transition to infinity and has urged the readers to accept the transitions in their lives.
Kertzer, Jonathon. Poetic Argument: Studies in Modern Poetry. Canada: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988. Print.