Elaine Equi’s poem “A Quiet Poem” depicts the many emotions behind a scream, and forces the reader to use their senses in order to understand the meanings. Equi begins her poem by showing annoyance and pain behind a scream. However, she also creates a contrast to the assumed pain of a scream by creating moments full of excitement. It appears that Equi is noting the harm a scream can bring, and the tortures one endures when in the presence of a scream, as well as reminding the reader of the happiness possible behind a scream as well. The scream becomes a small piece of everything in Equi’s world. Not only does her father in the poem scream “whenever the phone rang” but the kitchen faucet “screamed a drop at a time” The scream can be seen as a dark, endless sign of pain and suffrage or can be seen on a lighter note of joy and surprise. Just as Sylvia Plath “speaks of ‘the parched scream of the sun,'” and Jim Morrison “wanted o hear the scream of the butterfly,” Equi finds the screams of that around her and attempts to understand them. With every noise, and every activity, there is a scream and an emotion underneath.
The first four lines of the poem read:
“My father screamed whenever the phone rang.
My aunt often screamed when she opened the door.
Out back, the willows caterwauled.
In the kitchen, the faucet screamed a drop at a time.”
At the first four lines, the reader is introduced to screams of annoyance, and excitement, as well as screams found in nature and everyday life. The first introduction is a scene of madness and noise. However, Equi fully intended to snap the reader out of this horrid image, but stating, “My aunt often screamed when she opened the door.” Moreover, the start of the poem depicts the obvious, assumed purpose of the scream, only to insist upon the less obvious forms of a scream. By showing the aunt screaming as she opens the door, one would imagine an old friend or surprise guest standing in front of her. This would conclude that the scream was of happiness rather than pain.
As the poem continues, the scream becomes part of every emotion, and every sound. The willows “caterwauled,” or shrieked with the wind, while the drip-drop of the faucet screams. The narrator seems to be trapped within a world of noise and clutter, unable to escape the sounds around her. As the reader, it is natural to visualize the scenes given, which inevitably causes the scene to be heard as well. Equi seems to create these images in order for the reader to understand the noise in every object and activity, as she does.
The next two images are:
“At school, they called screaming ‘recess’ or sometimes ‘music.’
Our neighbors’ daughter had a scream more melodious than my own. “
The screams of recess and music may be harsh and piercing at times, but represent childhood and innocence. Along with this image is that of a young daughter who seems to represent youth and music as well. Therefore, the scream is transformable and also represents the young at heart.
Continuing on in reading the poem, Equi gives images of people screaming in the presence of Elvis, The Beatles and John Lennon:
“At first, Col. Parker had to pay girls to get them to scream for Elvis.
I didn’t want to scream when I saw The Beatles, but I did. After that, I screamed for even mediocre bands.
Late in his career, John Lennon got into Primal Scream.”
Even those who were not alive in this time period can imagine the screams of love and desire for Elvis and The Beatles. Here, new emotions are represented: love and worship.
The next portion of the poem provides a brief escape from the loud images previously depicted:
“Many people find it relaxing to scream.
Just as crawling precedes walking, so screaming precedes speech.”
Equi seems to acknowledge the use of the scream here, by claiming it can be seen as relaxing. Then, she goes on to acknowledge how natural a scream is for a human; after all it is our first way of communication. Moreover, the scream is more than just a shriek, or a noisy squeal, it is a symbol for each object it is heard from.
Equi realizes the different sounds, and forms the scream takes on and acknowledges them fully. She touches the reader’s senses by providing images full of life and sound.
The roller coaster is just one of many scream-inducing devices.
“The ambulance tries, in its clumsy way, to emulate the human scream, which in turn tries to emulate nature.”
The image of the “roller coaster” oozes with screams of fun and fear, while the image of the “ambulance” trying to “emulate the human scream” depicts pain and sickness. With both images, the reader can imagine the scene and hear the voices in their head.
The next portion of the poem is used to justify Equi’s obsession with the scream by claiming intrigue by others as well,
“Wind is often said to shriek, but Sylvia Plath also speaks of “the parched scream of the sun.”
Jim Morrison wanted to hear the scream of the butterfly.
With ultra-sensitive equipment, scientists measure the screams of plants they’ve tortured. “
It appears that Equi is not the only poet taken by the emotions and quiet meanings behind the scream.
The end of the poem is perhaps the most enlightening:
“It’s proven that if you scream at a person
For years, then suddenly stop, he will hear even
The tenderest words of love as violent curses.”
“And to anyone who speaks above a whisper, he will say:
‘Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare raise your voice to me.'”
Equi seems to discuss the scars a scream can leave upon a person. A scream, if heard too often can cause a person to always feel belittled and small. In fact, Equi suggests that “even the tenderest words of love” will be heard as “violent curses” by the ears of those who never hear a whisper. Moreover, the “quiet” poem provides images and enhances the reader’s sense of hearing. Beneath the scream is a whisper of meaning that is not always easy to hear.
As “A Quiet Poem” pierces the reader ears with visualizations of ambulances, roller-coasters and concerts, it can be asked, what is so “quiet” about this poem? A scream is a loud, sharp, and overwhelming display of emotion and is certainly not quiet. However, this poem creates loud images with subtle emotions. The narrator suggests that too often we hear the shriek of the scream and do not hear the whispers behind them. What does the scream mean? Is it a cry for help? An exclamation of excitement? or a painful yell? Behind the scream is the real, quiet answer. Once being overwhelmed with the noise of the world, it appears that anything above a whisper is a scream. Moreover, with all the noise behind each word, sound and activity, it is hard to hear the quiet meaning behind the loud scream.