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The Quarrel – Katherine Mansfield

August 8, 2015

The Quarrel

Our quarrel seemed a giant thing,
It made the room feel mean and small,
The books, the lamp, the furniture,
The very pictures on the wall –

Crowded upon us as we sat
Pale and terrified, face to face.
‘Why do you stay?’ she said, ‘my room
Can never be your resting place.’

‘Katinka, ere we part for life,
I pray you walk once more with me.’
So down the dark, familiar road
We paced together, silently.

The sky – it seemed on fire with stars!
I said: – ‘Katinka dear, look up!’
Like thirsty children, both of us
Drank from that giant loving cup.

‘Who were those dolls?’ Katinka said.
‘What were their stupid, vague alarms?’
And suddenly we turned and laughed
And rushed into each other’s arms.

It was the space of night and how it compared to the smallness of an argument that first brought this poem to my attention, but then also, thinking of the reader’s ‘Horizon of Expectations’:

When a poem makes use of the most obvious rhyming word to complete a stanza, does it work on you in a particular way – more comfortably perhaps? You know what is coming in part because the rhyme matches your horizon of expectations (if I can generalise there in terms of English speakers thinking similarly in terms of the most common and likely words to fit a rhyme… eg. arms being the most likely rhyme for alarms). It seems a poet could make deliberate use of this to disrupt and assuage a reader’s sense of correctness, and so their emotional response to a poem. Just a thought.

Ref: p.29 (italics in original) Ed. Vincent O’Sullivan (1990) Poems of Katherine Mansfield. Auckland, Melbourne, Oxford: Oxford University Press

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