Essays

The Rocking Chair, the Rocking Chair and Quebec

In The Rocking Chair, A.M. Klein layers deep meaning upon a rocking chair by making it a symbol of the continuous identity and traditions of Quebec. This is cleverly done through subtle metafiction, particularly regarding The Rocking Chair’s stanza form. Klein deftly draws the The Rocking Chair, the actual rocking chair and Quebec together to emphasize regularity through emergence.

The Rocking Chair has an ordered and regular form of four 8-line stanzas, intended to reflect and reinforce the security and sureness of the rocking chair and Quebec. Interestingly, there is no consistent rhyme scheme. There are times where Klein flirts with alternating couplets and near-rhymes, but this is never dominant. Instead, the rhythm of the poem comes from the use of enjambment. Crucially, The Rocking Chair features a complete language and sentence structure.  This provides the poem with a strong sense of structural continuity despite the enjambment and lack of rhymes. The first two stanzas of The Rocking Chair emphasize an active and vivid image of the Canadian family surrounding the chair. Klein immediately links the rocking chair to geography by engaging with the auditory senses, “It seconds the crickets of the province. Heard / in the clean lamplit farmhouses of Quebec” (1-2).Indeed, the French influence is emphasized throughout the poem, with references to St. Malo and the Anjou ballad. The rocking chair functions as a synecdoche of Quebec and Canada. The chair is almost personified and has a human personality. It is very much a parental figure in the Canadian family, the other members “still cradled by the chair” (Klein 8). The lexicon and vocabulary in the first two stanzas are heavily family orientated.

The metafictive element of The Rocking Chair becomes increasingly obvious in the second half of the poem. Klein ceases to mention the rocking chair, instead using a deliberately ambiguous neuter pronoun, “it.” The last two stanzas can easily refer to The Rocking Chair, the actual rocking chair or Quebec; indeed, the three all represent the Canadian identity and tradition. The simultaneous activity and staticity of the three is central. As mentioned, the stanza form of The Rocking Chair is based on its consistent staticity, despite the activity being described. Likewise, the actual rocking chair is the same but changing. Indeed, the very image of a rocking chair is a constantly moving but ultimately still chair. Lastly, given the rocking chair represents Quebec, this activity and staticity is also true for Quebec, which Klein refers to as “act / and symbol” (24-25). The enjambment here is particularly interesting, cutting across two stanzas. It serves the metafictive purpose of having the active “act” and passive “symbol” as separate and belonging to different stanzas, but ultimately whole and belonging to the same poem.

By linking the poem The Rocking Chair to the elements within it, Klein is able to give a new emphasis and emergence to the Canadian identity and tradition. The Rocking Chair, the rocking chair and Quebec are all a “symbol of this static folk” (25). The three are separate but the same, “alive; individual; and no less / an identity than those about it. And / it is tradition” (Klein 20-23). It is this activity and staticity that is at the crux of the poem, and is reflected in the symbolism and stanzaic form.

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