Poem of the Day: Mark Doty’s “Ararat”


Wrapped in gold foil, in the search
and shouting of Easter Sunday,
it was the ball of the princess,
it was Pharoah’s body
sleeping in its golden case.
At the foot of the picket fence,
in grass lank with the morning rain,
it was a Sunday school prize,
silver for second place, gold
for the triumphant little dome
of Ararat, and my sister
took me by the hand and led me
out onto the wide, wet lawn
and showed me to bend into the thick nests
of grass, into the darkest green.
Later I had to give it back,
in exchange for a prize,
though I would rather have kept the egg.
What might have coiled inside it?
Crocuses tight on their clock-springs,
a bird who’d sing himself into an angel
in the highest reaches of the garden,
the morning’s flaming arrow?
Any small thing can save you.
Because the golden egg gleamed
in my basket once, though my childhood
became an immense sheet of darkening water
I was Noah, and I was his ark,
and there were two of every animal inside me.
I first became enthralled with the poetry of Mark Doty after reading, “Souls on Ice,” an essay he wrote dissecting the ways in which metaphors are utilized by humans. He uses his poem “A Display of Mackerel” to emphasize his argument. Doty is so eloquent and concise with his language. I later discovered and began to read his memoir Heaven’s Coast, which tells of the emotional aftermath of losing his partner in the 1980s to AIDS in New York City. Doty has such a raw and utterly truthful manner of describing how we all as humans cope.
I chose to do a close reading of his poem “Ararat” because of the childhood innocence portrayed by the Sunday Easter egg hunt intertwined with the biblical references to the ark of Noah and Mount Ararat, which the ark rested upon after the great deluge. Doty, in the first section, takes a moment to describe the majestic beauty of the egg, “wrapped in gold foil…ball of the princess, / it was Pharaoh’s body.” The reader understands the obsession with the egg, the mesmerizing qualities of it.
Following this, Doty describes the grass “with morning rain.” The little golden dome that appears to stick up from the thick, green grass he compares to the dome of Mount Ararat. One of my favorite images of the entire poem is when his sister leads him out into the grasses and they “bend into the thick nests / of grass, into the darkest green.” As a child, Doty views the world from a different perspective. His surroundings appear larger than life. He captures the childish selfishness we once all occupied when the speaker says, “Later I had to give it back, / in exchange for a prize, / though I would rather have kept the egg.” This solidifies for the reader this obsession with the egg, its appearance and, equally as important, what rests within the egg.
The last part of the poem is where the speaker sets the strongest biblical tone with obvious references to Noah, his ark, and the animals. There is this sense of lost innocence in that as children, we have the world all around us and within us. The naivety of childhood is thus lost through adolescence and adulthood. Doty writes, “Because the golden egg gleamed / in my basket once, through my childhood / became an immense sheet of darkening water.” The water obviously references the great deluge and metaphorically can be possibly connected with the idea of the flooding of our innocent and naïve world as children. Again, I think Doty is able to capture the human experience in such a creative and imaginative manner by comparing an innocent Easter egg hunt to the great deluge and the landing of the ark on Mount Ararat. I see this poem as a coming-of-age story that is not so pretty, fanciful and exaggerated as many of them tend to be.
                                                                                      — Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson is a senior art history major. He will continue his graduate studies in art history at GW after graduation.

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