A Close Reading by Audrey Schwartz

We all learned

In the way that children who are nursed on Austen and Faulkner do,

In the way that readers of Margaret Mitchell and Charles Dickens must,

How to do a close reading.


A babbling brook,

A cooling breeze?

Blooming flowers,

Singing birds?

Lush trees,

Radiant sunlight?

Ah, our hero must be in love.


A greying sky,

A rat’s nest of clouds?

Stinging wind,

Howling dogs?

Gnarled branches,

Torturous rain?

Oh, our hero must have been betrayed.


But why aren’t we ever taught how to discuss both at once?

What does it mean

When the birds keep singing even as the dogs howl beneath them,

Or a soft breeze weaves its way through a tangled mass of clouds?

What does it mean

When one can see sunlight even through a sheet of rain,

Or the wind stings one’s nose as she bends down to smell the flowers?

What does it mean

When a brook continues chattering to a sulking sky,

Or the trees only seem greener for the knots in their branches?


What does it mean

To include both the heavenly and the hellish in a single text?

What does it mean

To never know from one second to the next whether one’s life is a paradise or a pit?

In that case

Our heroine must have been betrayed.

And she must have realized that she loves him anyway.