Two things are happening here. One is that fame and the trajectory of the pubic literary career have brought the attention of beautiful young women and the attention of a curious audience, and it seems clear that both are attracted not by the substance of the artist/person but by the aura of fame that radiates from his person. As far as his response to the women, there’s always the temptation. As for the rest of the audience, their stupid questions drive the speaker to thoughts of homicide. Thus, the person gets cut off from genuine relationships and isolated in the midst of increasing attention, because neither of these modes of attention are responses to the intrinsic personality of the man. It’s all about the lure of the public persona as spectacle, which while it grew from the art, which grew from the person, it has now taken on a separate existence, like a shell or clothing, and that’s what the public is flocking toward. It insulates the man from the world and increases his loneliness. He reads his poems over and over from a nook in the wall behind him, a frightened creature in a hole, projecting his image as a holograph and his voice through a megaphone.
I’m fairly certain that this poem ends with a reference to Kate, his third wife, a beautiful young Irish woman he married less than a year after they met. (Even if it turns out not to be about Kate, the implications about love from one woman that this poem deals with would still be in play.) I insinuated some bafflement a while ago, about why such a beautiful young woman would marry an alcoholic more than twice her age. The answer to that question is right here. For one thing, age doesn’t matter in the end. More important is that she’s perceptive enough and wise enough to peer through the blubber of fame that adheres to his person and insulates him from social relationships like a layer of opaque fat, and she responds to the isolated human man quivering away back there. She waits for an opening, sun glinting through the overcast, and when the moment arrives, she will touch him. Why? Hard to say. Perhaps in a world populated by too many dull men and violent blockheads, the art convinces her that a soul is pulsing in there. Waiting. Maybe even somebody worth rescuing.
I do think a remarkable soul was there, and in the end, despite my reservations and impatience—I’m a blockhead myself, I admit it—it was probably worth looking for on her part. Of course, he kept drinking, because stopping that wasn’t an option with the addict, and Kate eventually became less his wife and more his nurse and caretaker. And if she was perceptive and hopeful, she was probably also naïve and starry-eyed too. He describes her at one point to a friend as “a volcano”—a reference to a passionate sexuality. It’s reasonable to think she was probably as starved in her way as he was, and probably just as insulated as well, by her appearance (her beauty) and by social strictures inflicted on sensitive, alive women. Love is what this poem is about. This is a love poem, not necessarily from poet to his love, but about it to the rest of us. Let me tell you something that happened to me: Somebody figured it out. She doesn’t touch him yet in this poem. But she sees, and is waiting to. That in itself is an amazing thing.