Unseen Commentary on 'The Secret Life of Books' by Stephen Edgar, from Corrupted Treasures, (1995)

Essay by spradlingHigh School, 11th grade June 2005

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This five stanza poem is steeped in the extended personification of the books as articulate individuals. The title, The Secret Life of Books suggests there is something hidden below the superficial purposes (covers) of the books, that there is a hidden agenda that we don't know about, as is also suggested in line 11 and 12 (stanza 2).

The ambiguity of the poem stems from the themes of the poem which regard the power of books and language and, in a metafictional sense, the poem draws attention to itself as a text questioning other texts.

Through the use of personification, Edgar opens up the avenue of ambiguous interpretation, because it is not clear whether the books actively exercise a determined power over their readers or whether the writers of the books have crafted powerful language. Indeed the authors of these books are never mentioned. Edgar presents the books as a separate species which control (direct) us.

The "absurdity" is of course that ironically, we write and read the books thus controlling each other.

The theme of the power of the books is posed immediately in line 1 by alluding to "they" as having "stratagems". This creates the image of distance between the books and the readers and also portrays them as orchestrators of some destiny. This is juxtaposed with the paradox that the books cannot move. Edgar presents books as inanimate yet articulate and goes on to liken them to individuals. This is a strange simile since it raises the issue of sickness but also creates the image of a mind imprisoned within a frozen body. Within the immovable exterior there lies and active mind. Again the image is ambiguous. We can perceive the books as physical (enclosures or) entrapments of minds, or philosophically speaking, as minds trapped within the...