Thomas and Beulah by Rita DoveThis was deliciously well-done; Dove is witty and touching and lyrically adept. I found the two halves so brilliantly complementary that I couldnt easily say that I preferred one to the other; in both, she dissects disappointment so skillfully, so lovingly.* Its striking how artfully she constructs the two figures as mirrored, both pigeonholed into the roles society has fashioned for them--Thomas haunted by the loss of his first love (platonic or otherwise) and Beulah struggling against the repression of her potential--while also drawing out their differences.
My favorite poems: Compendium, Aircraft, Aurora Borealis, and The Stroke from Mandolin; and Promises, Motherhood, Daystar, Pomade, and Company from Canary in Bloom.
*Although, if pressed, I would probably opt for Beulahs.
Reading Together: Rita Dove’s ‘Thomas and Beulah’
This is an absolutely astounding body of work. Few contemporary poets are this capacious, this capable, this serious and this pleasurable to read. Any fear, any. Of Thomas, she writes,. To him, work is a narrow grief and the music afterwards is like a woman reaching into his chest to spread it around.
Dove wrote the poems about her grandparents, who came to Ohio during the Great Migration of blacks from the south to the north during the early 20th century. She referred to the poems as pearls on a necklace, in which each poem stands on its own but together they form something greater. It was a perfect choice for the class. Except for one thing. Was I qualified to teach these poems? What did I know about the lives of Thomas and Beulah?
These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. The first second provides the background of horrific conditions under which the poor people were expected to work while the second section attempts to penetrate into the kind of mindset that would spur Trujillo to do such a thing. A praying mantis sitting in the windowsill has proven to be a distraction to her ability to write and when she decides to get out of the house, the little insect has transformed into a dinosaur. Thomas and Beulah is not just a single poem, but a collection of 44 poems interconnected poems inspired by her grandparents that brought Dove the Pulitzer Prize. Although each poem in the collection can stand separately, taken together the result is more like an astonishing verse novel in which the reader gets to know the two title characters in a way that even a single epic poem could not.