Example: Close Reading Write-up for “Blind Man”

The following write-up is an example of an analysis of Eva Tihanyi’s poem Blind Man:

Eva Tihanyi’s poem Blind Man explores a connection between the senses and music in the life of a blind man. The poem begins with an eclipse, perhaps the source of the man’s blindness, but also the source of a dramatic recalibration of the senses through which the earth / speaks and his hands listen. This reorientation of attention to the earth, to material experiences, and to close listening, produces the jazz-like qualities of syncopation and rhythm that inform the rest of the poem, and which the man enacts through his cane / tapping.

In the second stanza, the poem returns to the man’s blindness, but this time to reorient the reader to the meaning of light. Beginning with the scientific theories of light as both particle and wave, the descriptions rematerialize light by making it into a more tangible thing. Because the particles and waves are falling and flowing, the light becomes a tangible object or liquid that produces bodily sensations that the blind man can interpret as melodies on his eyelids. Interestingly, this reinterpretation of the light also avoids directly referencing the expected sense of warmth on the skin. The flow between senses and meanings is mimicked by a lack of punctuation to signal the end of different thoughts or stanzas, creating a steady flow through the words of the poem as well.

This jazz-like movement of light is worthy of consideration. The translation of this sensation, perhaps obliquely suggesting the heat of sunlight on skin, produces a white melody scored on dark sheets, a musicality of life that is the inverse of a sighted person’s understanding. The translation of light into a musical score, but in an inverse or negative image of typical sheet music, suggests a process of reception and response that alters substantially as the blind man’s senses recalibrate to material experience, such that the earth / speaks … and his hands listen.

Tihanyi further equates the experience of blindness with the sound of jazz in the final stanza that moves beyond the imagery of light. The blind man’s penchant for roses cannot be based on their colour or other visual properties, but instead connects to their feel and smell. Here again, the response is musical, as he hears them sing. This line suggests that the loss of sight recalibrates the experience of the rose, but that it remains meaningful. Tihanyi’s poem proposes a musicality to blindness that opens up the world and makes it accessible in different ways.

Less directly, the poem also opens up, through the references to jazz, an interest in and attempted explanation of the creativity of blind jazz musicians like Ray Charles, Art Tatum, and Stevie Wonder who are so gifted and influential in their creative use of musical forms. At the same time, it offers a liberating perception of disability, since it foregrounds a new accessibility to the world, the gifts of hearing roses sing and feeling melodies of light on your eyelids, while glossing over the anger that initially informs the blind man’s daily movements with his tapping cane.

Perhaps we can go back and think of the eclipse as gesturing to the closing off of possibilities that disability and even gendering impose on people, as soon as they enter the mainstream. One way that this might be signaled is by seeing this man as different from other men, perhaps desexualized by his disability. This categorization of men who are disabled or belong to minority cultures as effeminate or asexual, reveals the ways in which heteronormativity is regulated in language.

Postcolonial critics and feminists often argue that those categorized as outside the mainstream see more because they have to understand the majority culture as well as their own, whereas those privileged members of the elite can remain ignorant of the struggles of the less privileged (e.g. see Godard). It may be that Tihanyi is more interested in exploring synaesthesia (a neurological term for the blending of senses) than politics, but it is possible to read her chosen imagery as a gesture towards these issues.

After this short close reading, there remain some questions one might reflect on:

  • Does this poem suggest, by glossing over the negative emotions of the blind man, that being blinded by an eclipse is a good thing since it allows a new way to sense music or light? Or does it want to suggest, by exploring the musical riches of other senses, that readers engage with multisensory understandings of the world by valuing the complex meanings offered by all senses?
  • How does this poem reflect on creative writing and daily experiences? Does the focus on a white melody / scored on black sheets—on texts that are not made up of visible, typographic words to be read (Braille and scores)—cause us to read towards a new mode of hearing through the senses that speak?
  • The lines about a white melody / scored on black sheets, combined with the poem’s references to blindness and jazz, also call up the image of the blind, Black jazz musician. Consider this racialized imagery in connection to the comments above on the politics of language, difference, and privilege. What do you make of this imagery? Does it just romanticize racialized experiences or does it add to the discussion of creativity in some way?

Works Cited

  • Godard, Barbara. The Politics of Representation: Some Native Canadian Women Writers.Canadian Literature 124–25 (1990): 183–225. Print. (PDF)
  • Tihanyi, Eva. Blind Man. Canadian Literature 99 (1983): 46–47. Print. (HTML)