Virginia Lucas Poetry Scrapbook

Explication of Hannah F. Gould's Poem "A Name in the Sand"

     The poem “A Name in the Sand” presents a contemplating, somber person. This person seeks to distinguish her place on earth and what will be left behind when she is no longer present. The author of this poem, Hannah Gould, was acknowledged for her ability to take something small and turn it into something bigger (British Literary Monument 73). The poem “A Name in the Sand” uses a metaphor to compare a small, ornate thing to the importance of a woman’s life. Hannah Gould’s poem acknowledges the inability of society to recognize capable individuals, specifically women.

     While moving from stanza to stanza it is clear that the poem is telling a story or revealing the thought process of the speaker. The poem begins with something small: “a wave came rolling high and fast, / And washed my lines away” (7-8). The speaker has written her “name_the year_the day,” which is then erased by a single wave. The words that had been erased seem so trivial at first, but as the poem continues it is clear that this small metaphor actually represents a larger meaning and internal feeling. The progression of the metaphor aids the speaker in explaining her growth process within the poem.

      The poem begins with a single instance, the one time she wrote in the sand. The next stanza moves to a broader subject, the discussion of “every mark on earth from me” (10). The sand no longer signifies one circumstance, but everything the speaker represents. This concept of  “every mark” moves to acknowledge all of the aspects of life and the “dark oblivion’s sea” which attempts to engulf all of these moments (11).  Gould uses this idea of “every mark” to showcase the larger significance of her life. During this moment, Gould moves swiftly to a change in attitude or tone. These dark and vicious seas may sweep the surface, but cannot erase the lasting marks or memories we leave in various situations. The top of the sand may appear as a white canvas, but what lies underneath, the shells, rocks and, organisms, will lie beneath untouched. Gould addresses a typical human desire: to leave a lasting impression on the world before one dies. However, she demonstrates no judgment, but simple intelligence and understanding of the restraints society has cast on her. These restraints have created a discouraging atmosphere, which Gould looks to eliminate. The poem looks to challenge the displacement of those lines in the sand as not erased or dismissed, but rather buried deeper with a variety of possibilities.

            The marks in the sand, I believe, represent a woman and the struggle for success during her lifetime. The speaker moves through the different phases, the words in the sand, which then seem to be erased by a moving force, but actually may leave something more behind. The words showcase her intelligence and acceptance of the process. The phases of this poem represent growth: the maturing process of a woman coming to terms with what society may see as her ultimate potential, but aware of the varying possibilities that lie ahead. She starts out describing herself as a small speck in the grand scheme of life that can be erased by a single wave. This destructive wave demonstrates the hardships as well as the small difference her life has made. However, during this movement she is not angry or pessimistic, but almost optmistic. She believes “a lasting record stands” (19). Although this wave has taken her writing away it is still engrained within the earth. By this last stanza the speaker has come to a revelation. The speaker understands that these small lines, the hindrance of society, are incapable of erasing her “every mark”; she is still relevant and important.

     The poem’s formal elements aid in the overall meaning of the poem as well. When looking at the rhyme scheme, aaabcccb, the lines that stand on their own possess a greater meaning for the story of the poem. The line that divides each rhyming triplet from the next concludes the set of three lines before it. The line that states “and washed my lines away” gives a concluding statement about the written lines erased by the waves, as well as moving to discuss the endless marks on earth that still exist.  Throughout the poem each of these separated lines provides an ending to the speaker’s stages of growth. They begin with her writing in the sand, move on to the lines being washed away, and finally indicate her realization of her never ending marks on earth. Gould’s ability to separate these lines from the rest of the rhyming triplets draws the reader’s close attention to these actions. These actions allow for the overall interpretation of the poem to take center stage while showcasing a heartfelt struggle from within.

     Another formal element, meter, contributes heavily to the interpretation of the poem. The meter supports the overall idea that this poem is a blueprint for the thought process of the speaker and the importance of what she begins to understand about herself. The formal element of meter allows a poem to be read in a certain fashion. The six rhyming triplets are all in iambic tetrameter, while the lines that separate each set of rhyming triplets are in iambic trimeter. Due to this type of meter the poem is read in a swift and sing-song manner. Although the main idea of this poem is serious, the meter keeps the poem lighthearted and moving. This meter allows Gould to discuss a neglected and frowned upon topic using a positive lens. This rhyme scheme keeps the poem lighthearted until one looks beyond the surface of the words. Gould’s technique in intertwining a stressful situation with a cheerful meter creates a poem that highlights an important issue without putting the audience in a saddened state.

     The word choice as well as the sounds paired with each individual word demonstrates the story of the poem as well. When looking at the words that finish each line, specifically lines one to eighteen, the speaker is discussing the journey of her symbolic lines being washed away. Each line ends with a soft sounding word, for example the letter ‘s’ or something similar. The poem remains lighthearted with a singsong like composure as well as the soft sounding words for these first few stanzas. Not until lines nineteen to twenty four do the harsh words come out. The words contain hard letters, like ‘T’. This channels a shift in the poem, as the speaker realizes her place in the sand/world, and the importance of her being. The harsh word choice does not mean she has become angry, but more aware and vocal about her belonging. The shift in word choice emphasizes this revelation in the speaker as well as adds to the entirety of the poem’s meaning.

     Moving beyond the sand being washed away, it is clear there is a bigger social question to this poem. The speaker approaches this line in the sand from a personal perspective, but enlightens her audience as to a discussion about the entirety of society.  Gould uses this metaphor to explain the hardships of many women poets, as well as women altogether. The lines, which are erased by the waves, symbolize the lack of attention and opportunities these women were granted during this time. By the end of the poem Gould is aware of the struggle, but is still willing to shed some positive light on it. Gould expresses the importance of her existence. Although there is a “Him who counts the sands, and holds the waters in his hands,” there is a she who holds this “lasting record” (17-19).  Through all the “thinking” and “mortal” aspects the speaker has encompassed in her life, she is incapable of simply being washed away. There is more to this individual that will remain even during this difficult time period. No matter that man receive most of the praise and attention; the female population is still capable of leaving their mark in the sand. 

Work Cited
“Our Female Poets: Original Lydia Huntley Sigourney Niagara Hannah F. Gould TheGround  Laurel Emma C. Embury stanzas To A Sister Anna Maria Wells The Tamed Eagle  Sarah Louisa P. Smith The Huma Frances Osgood To A Young Friend Caroline Gilman The Mocking Bird In The City Elizabeth F. Ellet Wordly Cares Sarah Joseph Hale The Light Of Home Anna Peyre Dinnies The Wife.” The Baltimore Literary Monument (1838-1839), 72. American Periodicals Series (collection 1).