1. Does the piece have a title? What does the title suggest about the language?
The title of the piece, Otherwise, suggests the language will be contrasting ideas as the word otherwise indicates difference. The single word is simple, forcing the reader to do most of the work. It can be read as either promising or bleak, but the choice is made by the reader.
2. Who is the speaker of the piece? What do we know about him or her? Does the speaker reflect on the experience with a particular attitude (tone)? Is there an identified auditor, the “you” in the poem to whom the language is being directed?
The speaker has a very solemn attitude, in each line considering the perishable nature of the daily events he/she loves and is thankful for doing. It can be assumed the speaker is an adult living happily with their partner and their dog. Not much more can be determined though, because there is no auditor or indication of the speaker's gender.
3. What is the occasion which leads to the uttering of the language?
Perhaps the death of a loved one or other depressing event sparked this pessimistic view of future days and slight thankfulness for today; however, an event is not necessary. It is possible the speaker simply considers this subject whenever the mood strikes. The poem offers a view of life inspired by an inherent disposition to realism, not a singular event.
4. Does the language relate a sequence of events (narrative)? Is the narrative central to the meaning of the language or to the experience being shared?
The speaker narrates their day and every event within it they enjoy. The first stanza describes the morning where the speaker is alone. The second stanza depicts the afternoon which the speaker spends with their mate. The narrative is central to the idea of the poem because each event is an image easily related to a similar event within the readers life. The poem ends by breaking the narrative pattern and acknowledging the imminent future the title represents.
5. Does the language play with sound in any way? Does this sound-play point your attention to specific words or phrases central to the meaning?
The poem has no discernible rhyme scheme or syllable pattern; however, there is a repetition of the phrase, "It might have been otherwise." The recurrence of the phrase puts emphasis on the poems title and is the central idea of the poem.
6. How does the language invoke the imagination? Is the image central to the reader’s experience of the poem? Be specific.
The poem depicts a simple day including getting out of bed, eating cereal, walking a dog, laying down with a mate, eating dinner together, and going to bed. These images are simple things anyone can recognize and relate to similar day-to-day events in their own life. The events are simple, almost mundane, but the speaker emphasizes the joy they provide everyday. The images invite readers to consider the small pieces of their own daily lives they perhaps take for granted.
7. Does the language suggest an idea? Is the idea central to the reader’s experience of the poem? Be specific.
The poem suggests and idea about the nature of human life: Everything in life, even the small daily events we may take for granted, is ephemeral. We must acknowledge and accept the imminent future of our lives: "One day...it will be otherwise."
8. Does the language inspire any emotional response? Is the emotion central? Specifically, what words or phrases in language evoke these feelings?
The narrative of the day itself is actually uplifting. The speaker lives a simple, happy life where they do the work they love. For many people, a life such as this is the 'dream life'; however, the central phrase after each event brings a more depressing tone to the poem. On the surface, the speaker has a bleak outlook on life, but if we dig deeper the solemn tone can inspire thankfulness. Instead of having a depressing view of life, the speaker is thankful for each small joy in life.
9. Does the language play with words by “twisting” meaning? What is the effect of these twists, tropes or figures?
Every element of the poem is an image to the reader having only one meaning.
10. Does the language use representation? Are these symbols central to the idea of the poem?
Every element of the day mentioned in this poem brings joy to the speaker. Though they are simple and small day-to-day actions they are important to the speaker. These events are symbols to the reader which represent the small elements of their own day they love and perhaps take for granted.
11. Does the language play with the reader’s expectations and sense of reality? Are these points of irony and paradox central to the idea of the poem?
The poem utilizes irony in the sense that the speaker is thankful for the small things everyday but waiting for their disappearance. The poem celebrates the small parts of life but warns of their certain demise.
12. Does the language have an overall pattern? What key words or phrases echo in the language? Is the language structured into parts (stanzas)? Is complexity of the experience made less complex by any structural devices?
The poem is divided into two stanzas which divide the day described at noon. Throughout the poem, the phrase “It could have been otherwise” is repeated after every daily event until the end of the second stanzas where the readers uses the same phrase to make a prediction. “But one day I know, it will be otherwise.” The pattern of the poem emphasizes the speaker’s main idea.
13. Overall, what is artful about the language? In what imaginative, intellectual, sensual or emotional way(s) does the language represent the complexity of human experience?
The language juxtaposes daily action with the idea of loss and forces readers to contemplate the ephemeral nature of their life. The poem encourages readers to imagine if their life were ‘otherwise’ and warns that ‘otherwise’ is inevitable. The poem actually simplifies the idea of human life in suggesting that no matter what we do, otherwise is imminent.
14. Finally, is the language valuable? Is it worth reading? Remember: New Criticism is essentially a theory of linguistic value! A work is valuable only if it expresses coherently the complexity of the human experience.
The poem is valuable because it simplifies the complexities of the human experience: Everything will come to an end. We must treasure everyday, even the small daily events we have, and be wary they will one day cease to exist. Life is ephmeral.
15. What-How Thesis for Jane Kenyon’s “Otherwise”
Symbols, juxtaposition, and repetition invite the reader to consider the fragile nature of life and the value of simple, yet joyful day-to-day actions.