Blind Man is an example of a free-verse lyric poem. The following breakdown of
Blind Man offers line-by-line notes modelling strategies for reading and possible readings of the poem.
Click on each line to read the observations.
A literal cause of his blindness might have been staring at sun—but might eclipse also mean something else? These lines mix senses (touch and sound) to convey perhaps a new sensitivity to touch and its meaningfulness. At the same time, Braille is a different way of conveying language, which draws the domain of writing and creativity into the discussion too.
Hands as ears (poets often blend the senses like this—in cognitive science this is called synaesthesia).
Syncopation: musical term for accenting a weak beat; jazz is noted for syncopation.
Beat repeats musical sense, but with image of extended touch and connection with the world.
Musical beat again, but for emotion as well. Lust brings in a new idea—perhaps the blind man is lonely? But "lust" can mean more than sexual desire.
Links breath for life, speech, music, and sex.
Stanza break picks up on breath (cyclical and rhythmic inhalation, exhalation). Note how there is no final punctuation, making this rhythmic, sustaining breath affirm this non-ending. This disrupts the sense of finality of the stanza. It also emphasizes the continuity of touch provided by the page, the space that unites all of the words, and the earth which unites his experience and speaks to him. It also suits the fluidity of jazz mentioned above.
Which we know he cannot see, suggesting we read this image cautiously.
A reference to how light is conceptualized scientifically.
Normalizes the science with more natural imagery of particles we know fall (with gravity, which light is less impacted by) and flowing (water image = wave). These images suggest objects and entities one can touch, which one can’t with light in the same way, reinforcing the notion of the hands sensing differently begun in the previous stanza.
Converts light sensations into sense modality he can still engage with fully.
The light image combined with the musical term adds more specificity to the previous line. Also, the white on
dark sheets inverts the image of the sheet music page (black on white) which alters the image of blindness and blends his eyelids with the page. A score is also something to be read, suggesting that this blindness is tied to the process of reading music produced by the light falling on unseeing eyes.
Shifts senses again from sound and sight to smell.
Why is it only a man, not a person? Does this suggest that women hear this way
Again, a meshing of musical and other sensual information. How might the smell-music be connected to the description of the light-music earlier?
A few more notes on form
Note how each stanza of
Blind Man reveals a singular focus: first blindness, then light, then singing. At the same time, each one lacks concluding punctuation and shares aspects of imagery, allowing them to flow into and inform each other.
Also, consider what the reader might need to know to understand this text. The key images revolve around jazz music and blindness, which are themselves essential for understanding the water and texture imagery.
The link between jazz and blindness has connotations of such famous blind jazz musicians as Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Art Tatum. This imagery suggests that the poem is not just exploring what it might be like to be blind, but also raises questions of perception and creativity. These considerations enrich our connection with and responses to the world through the arts.
Note on the text
This poem has been updated slightly by the author from its original version published in Canadian Literature.
- Tihanyi, Eva.
Blind Man.Canadian Literature 99 (1983): 46–47. Print. (HTML)