Poetic Explication on Charles Martin's "Taken Up"

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Charles Martin’s “Taken Up” is a poem that could illustrate two possible scenarios. This poem can be interpreted as viewing a group of people waiting on, meeting, and leaving with extraterrestrial beings. It could also be a personified colony of aspen trees that are awaiting the sun on a spring day. It is written in free verse that does not have a specific amount of syllables per line. The poem consists of seven terza rima rhyming verse stanzas, which displays the authors control over the free verse form. These stanzas are constructed simply by using the rhyme scheme a a a, b b b, and so on. This poem is written in the third person narrative and describes the interaction between humans and aliens. It could also describe the scene of a colony of aspen trees waiting on a spring morning. The poem uses descriptive language so that one may easily construct a visual scene with their mind.

The poem presents the use of literary devices—imagery, alliteration, metaphors, and personification are most common.

The poem was written in 1978 by the American poet Charles Martin, and could possibly capture the ideals of the American popular culture at the time. The Roswell incident of 1947 gave rise to a multitude of thoughts regarding the possibilities of extraterrestrials coming to earth. On the other hand, the poem could simply be about beauty and life as seen in nature. The opening lines of the poem possibly illustrate the extraterrestrial idea as well as a colony of aspen trees waiting for the sunrise on a spring morning. It begins:Tired of earth, they dwindled on their hill,Watching and waiting in the moonlight untilThe aspens’ leaves quite suddenly grew still,If we assume the poet is referring to people in this poem, these lines would illustrate a group of people “dwindled,” or sitting, on a hill “watching” upwards towards outer space. Line three, "The aspens’ leaves quite suddenly grew still" could possibly refer to the silence before something big happens. This type of silence can be compared to the silence a contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” receives before knowing if he/she correctly answered the question. But if we were to assume that the poet is referring to a colony of aspen trees, then it could be read much differently. Because trees need sunlight to grow through photosynthesis, they might be personified in the sense that they “dwindle” in the “moonlight” while they are “watching and waiting” for the night to be over and the sun to rise. The third line illustrates the calmness of a spring morning. Aspen leaves by nature easily catch the slightest breeze so this illustrates a deadening silence or calmness.

The next three lines continue to illustrate both ideas of extraterrestrials as well as the aspen tree colony:No longer quaking as the disc descended,That glowing wheel of lights whose coming endedAll waiting and watching. When it landedThe first line reinforces the idea of silence or calmness because the “quaking” refers to the leaves of an aspen tree quaking, or rocking, back and forth. “The disc descended” could refer to a flying saucer, which was an idea of the American popular culture of what an alien space craft might look like. It might also be the moon going down in anticipation of the sun rising, which brings the life giving rays of light. Line two might illustrate the coming of the sun, “glowing wheel of lights,” and the closure of night, “whose coming ended.” It could also be compared with a “wheel of lights,” or a UFO. The third line, “All waiting and watching. When it landed” could refer to people waiting and watching this UFO land. On the other hand, it could mean that this aspen colony is personified in the sense that it is “waiting and watching” for the rays of sunlight “when it landed” giving the possibility of life to the saplings in the colony.

The third stanza again carries dualism in its lines:The ones within it one by one came forth,Stalking out awkwardly upon the earth,And those who watched them were confirmed in faith:The first line could illustrate the extraterrestrials “one by one” getting off the UFO. The first line is followed by a descriptive line as people see them as “stalking out awkwardly” because it would be awkward to see something new from outer space that might have been proportionally dissimilar to a human. This first encounter with extraterrestrials would cause these people to be “confirmed in faith.” Their beliefs have now been confirmed; there are extraterrestrials in the universe. The other take on these lines illustrates a view of saplings, which “came forth,” or sprouted “one by one” growing “awkwardly upon the earth” in all the different directions that branches grow. These new trees were growing and the rest colony was “confirmed in faith” by their growth. They were ensured that a new generation of life was growing among the colony.

In stanzas four and five it seems as if the extraterrestrial idea is clearly what the poet is referring to, but it could very well be another reference to the aspen tree colony. One must think abstractly to pull out dual meanings in the following lines:Mysterious voyagers from outer space,Attenuated, golden—shreds of laceSpun into seeds of the sunflower’s spinning faceLight was their speech, spanning mind to mind:We come here not believing what we find—Can it be your desire to leave behindThe “mysterious voyagers” are extraterrestrials from “outer space” who are “attenuated,” or made slim, but have a huge face like that of a “sunflower’s spinning face.” These lines help to paint a picture of what an extraterrestrial might look like. At the time, in American popular culture the thinning or “attenuated” physique of the alien with a huge “sunflower” like face was commonly used as the symbol for extraterrestrials. The “golden” may be descriptive of a really bright light that one may associate with extraterrestrials. Then in the next line the extraterrestrials’ “speech” was “light,” or low tone, which may reassure that no harm would come to those encountering this. The next two lines of the fifth stanza are written so that one may think an alien was talking about finding people whom they are “not believing” would want to “desire to leave behind” the earth. Or, it could be that the “mysterious voyagers” are the rays of light beaming on the earth from “outer space” where the sun is. The “golden—shreds of lace” is descriptive of the golden rays of life giving light that the sun produces. The rays are “golden” in color and as beautiful as “lace.” The rays of light allow the “seeds” to grow into the saplings of the aspen colony. The suns “light” that was “spanning from mind to mind” could illustrate personification in that the “light” was spanning from sapling to sapling, or seed to seed, giving each the necessary fuel for growth. The last two lines are lines of questioning. Do the saplings really want to “leave behind” the earth from where they began? The next stanza again questions both the colony of aspens as well as the people desiring to leave with the extraterrestrials:The earth, which those called angels bless,Exchaning amplitude for emptiness?And in a single voice they answered Yes,The line “exchanging amplitude for emptiness” could suggest the question of why would these humans leave this earth full of everything they need for life for a life in the “emptiness” of “outer space?” Likewise, these lines could be asking a question to the aspen saplings. Do the saplings really want to leave the “amplitude” of the earthly body for the “emptiness” of the air above ground? Both parties “answered Yes” states that the people want to leave earth as well as the saplings wanting to grow from the earth and in a sense leave it as well. It is almost as sustenance is being taken from both people and the colony. People do not survive well for long in an environment without oxygen, such as “outer space.” Likewise, aspen trees only live for a short amount of time above ground (40-150 years); while there root system in “the earth” can survive for far longer (up to 80,000 years). (Wikipedia)The final stanza of this poem finishes off the dualism seen throughout the poem:Discord of human melodies all blentTo the unearthly strain of their assent.

Come then, the Strangers said, and those that were taken, went.

The first line refers to a “discord,” or disagreement among “human” beings whether or not to make the decision to take the “assent” into space. The extraterrestrials tell those who decide to go to “come then” and those who did not disagree with them “went.” On the other hand, the saplings are in “strain of their assent” meaning that gravity is working against the samplings that are “stalking out awkwardly” causing “strain” on their “assent” higher and higher into the “emptiness” of the air. The saplings want to continue this growth and the “strangers” can be compared to the sunlight that allow for growth to happen. The “strangers” supplied the saplings with the sunlight needed to be “taken” into the air.

This poem can definitely been seen as a parallel between a human existence, and a non-human existence such as an aspen colony. How would a sapling or tree react to the sun flooding its life giving rays of light upon the earth each day? How would a person react to a UFO filled with extraterrestrials wanting to take you take you with them to outer space? Are such reactions natural on both parts? Does a sapling decide whether to become a tree and leave the ground from which it was once buried and only a seed? Likewise, does the human decide whether to leave its earthly home in search of the exploration of extraterrestrial life? These questions cannot be answered by the poem, but they do give rise to the idea of decision making. Sometimes in life you are presented with issues that require decisions, and sometimes the decisions have already been made for you. The important thing is that once a decision is made, whether by you, or someone else, that you represent your decision personally, and learn from it if the results do not turn out the way you expected.

ReferencesMason, David. Western Wind. New York: Mcgraw-Hill, 2006.

Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspen Retrieved on 10-07-2007. Last modified 10-04-2007.