Wednesday, November 30, 2005


by Charles Simic

I grew up bent over
a chessboard.

I loved the word endgame.

All my cousins looked worried.

It was a small house
near a Roman graveyard.
Planes and tanks
shook its windowpanes.

A retired professor of astronomy
taught me how to play.

That must have been in 1944.

In the set we were using,
the paint had almost chipped off
the black pieces.

The white King was missing
and had to be substituted for.

I'm told but do not believe
that that summer I witnessed
men hung from telephone poles.

I remember my mother
blindfolding me a lot.
She had a way to tucking my head
suddenly under her overcoat.

In chess, too, the professor told me,
the masters play blindfolded,
the graet ones on several boards
at the same time.

This poem beautifully interweaves chess, the game that symbolizes war between opposing royalties, and the actual occurances of World War II. The way it sort of bounces back and forth in an almost dreamlike manner from his game of chess to the reality that is his mother hiding his face so he should not bear witness to murder at such a young age allows us to contrast the game with the reality. We are clearly taken into the scene of the war, with the speaker's references to planes and takns shaking the windowpanes. He even bothers to put us in a specific year, thus, asking us to call upon our historical knowledge of what was going on in the world at this time, and contrast it with the white King being missing, and a substitute being called upon. The duality of this poem is what makes it so interesting, and I also think the word "endgame" standing out of the rest of the poem deserves proper attention. While, the immediate connontation derived when we think that all that the reference is to is a chess game, is, of course, check mate. However, this is also a reference to the defeat of a people, and the end of a war. Very interesting poem that really portrays the war through a likely yet unlikely medium.


Blogger John Park said...

I would never have guessed this poem was about ww2. The way it is woven in is so subtle, one becomes more engrossed in the more obvious theme of the author learning the game of chess. The way the author refers to the war by using the year makes the poem stronger than if he referred to it using words associated with the war.

12:06 PM  

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