Post Series: Poems with Explanations: Alone


Was it a cigarette?
Was it a campfire?
Was it lightening?

There was the spark,
in the trees,
far away.

  No one was there.

The shingles caught,
at first a smolder,
then the flame.

  No one was there.

Smoke in the attic,
rafters buckle,
and with some time,
the ceiling caves.

  An alarm sounds,
  no one hears.

The smoke in the living room,
windows shatter,
furniture burns,
and all crumbles.

  There are eyes,
  but looking away.

Four walls,
three walls,
two and one,
the pile is there,
and all is gone.

  No one was there.


This poem is about a person becoming progressively more ill.  The person is alone and has no one to help them.  It uses a house fire as a metaphor.  This poem examines the idea of an isolated person encountering something where they need help.

The first stanza examines the cause of the illness.  It basically questions whether it started from something small (a cigarette), something medium (a campfire) or something large (lightening).  The questions are not answered in the poem.

The next stanza describes the start of the illness.  It starts small (spark) and unnoticed (unseen) (far away).  As a note, the fact that the illness started small is not meant to imply that it started from something small.  The idea is that even something big (such as a fire caused by lightening) still in essence starts with one point.

The third stanza (No one was there) is the first mention that the person is alone.

The next stanza uses a house as a metaphor for the person.  The stanza says, The shingles caught, at first a smolder, then the flame.  This describes the person first feeling the illness.  At first it is subtle (a smolder), but then it is more (the flame).  This stanza could be looked at as describing a person feeling the start of a fever (shingles representing the person’s head and a smolder and flame representing the heat of the fever).

The fifth stanza is a repeat of the third.  It shows that as the person got more ill, they were still alone.

The sixth stanza continues the progression of the illness.  The fire spreading in the attic could be looked at as representing the symptoms of the illness spreading in the person’s head.  By the end of the stanza, they feel it in their throat.  This is one way of describing the spread of the illness (which continues the way of description from stanza four) but other similar notions of the symptoms of an illness spreading could be applied.

The seventh stanza is like the third and the fifth, in that it shows that no one is with the person.  This stanza uses a somewhat different expression though.  It uses the metaphor of an unheard fire alarm to describe the person calling for help, but getting no response.

The eighth stanza continues the progression of illness symptoms.  One way to look at it, would be to say that the person started feeling something in their lungs (The smoke in the living room), their eyes began to hurt (windows shatter), they felt pain at different parts of their body (furniture burns) and they were overwhelmed by the symptoms (and all crumbles)

The next stanza is like the previous indented ones, in that it expresses the idea that the person is alone.  The stanza expresses the idea that there are people (There are eyes) and these people are observant and aware (looking) but they are just not aware of the person that is ill (but looking away).

One important point about this poem, is that people are not actively ignoring the ill person in the poem.  The person in the poem is isolated either by circumstance or by their own doing.  It is not though, a matter of neglect.  People are not willfully not helping the person, they are simply unaware the person needs help.

The tenth stanza describes the person getting severely more ill (as described by the walls of the house collapsing).  The person is very weak (the pile is there) and eventually, the person dies (and all is gone).

The last stanza is a repeat of the third and fifth.  It say, that the person died alone.

In terms of form, this poem is free verse in the sense that there was not a predefined from applied to it, nor a strict structure applied while it was written.  Despite this though, the poem is not entirely free of structure and still has form elements in it.

The first stanza consists entirely of questions.  Each question starts with Was it.  Additionally, the first two stanzas, start with Was it a, and then a word that starts with the letter c.

The second stanza starts with a line that is relatively longer in appearance than the other three lines in the stanza.  The first line says something, and the next three describe it.  The three short lines are meant to be choppy in a sense so that each point about the spark is made.

The third stanza, is repeated in the fifth stanza, and again repeated in the last stanza.  These stanzas are all indented to show a separation from the other ideas of the poem.

In the tenth stanza, the first two lines are similar.  They show the progression of the house falling in.  The third line breaks the form pattern (it does not continue two walls, one wall).  The idea of the break was to speed up the collapse of the house (and therefore the deterioration of the person).


M. Sakran’s self-published book of poems with explanations called Understanding: poems with explanations is available for purchase as an eBook for an available price of $0.99. Buy your copy today!

To help celebrate the self-publication of this book, there is a post series of poems with explanations on the blog.  Above is a poem with an explanation for the series.  This poem with an explanation (as well as the rest in the series) is not from the book.  It is a different one that is part of this post series for readers to read and enjoy.