Linda Pastan is one of the most famous poets of modern times, and her poems, including ‘Imaginary Conversation’ have created a deep impact on the readers’ minds and life.
Pastan takes up very simple and personal topics and scenarios and presents them in a very different and unique way. Topics of life surviving each day, marriage, love, etc are common themes of her poems.
‘Imaginary Conversation’ is a wonderful poem that redefines the meaning of the word “Carpe Diem” and gives it an entirely new meaning.
Let’s take a look at the poem first and then at the meaning and theme of the poem.
Imaginary Conversation by Linda Pastan
You tell me to live each day as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen where before coffee I complain of the day ahead—that obstacle race of minutes and hours, grocery stores and doctors. But why the last? I ask. Why not live each day as if it were the first— all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing her eyes awake that first morning, the sun coming up like an ingénue in the east? You grind the coffee with the small roar of a mind trying to clear itself. I set the table, glance out the window where dew has baptized every living surface.
Meaning and Analysis of ‘Imaginary Conversation’
‘Imaginary Conversation’ is a very personal poem where the poet describes what she is feeling. It is about an “imaginary conversation” that she has with herself and disagrees with.
This imaginary dialogue within her brings an insight into the way life should be lived and how one must view it every day.
The voice inside her seems to be a nihilistic one, telling her to just go through the day thinking it is the last day. But the poet questions it.
We’ll look at each stanza of the poem separately to better understand the poem.
The Voice: Nihilism
You tell me to live each day
as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen
where before coffee I complain
of the day ahead—that obstacle race
of minutes and hours,
grocery stores and doctors.
Imaginary Conversation starts with Linda Pastan talking to the voice inside her mind. The voice tells her to live her life as if it was her last day. It is actually quite a common and popular way of thinking.
Carpe Diem or ‘seize the moment’ is the philosophy that has spawned this idea of living your day as if it was your last day. While the idea behind it is to live life to the fullest, the approach is quite nihilistic.
The speaker adds that she is worried and stressed just as the day starts with all the chores and simple things she needs to do. Every minute and hour is like a hurdle to her that she needs to get over.
Living your day as if it were the last will not help you in living as it uses fear as fuel. The speaker counters with her reasoning.
The Speaker: Optimism
But why the last? I ask. Why not
live each day as if it were the first—
all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing
her eyes awake that first morning,
the sun coming up
like an ingénue in the east?
We get to see the optimistic side of the speaker when she questions the voice in her head and asks why lives the day as if it was the last. Why not think of it as the first day?
Wouldn’t it be much better to live the day as it was the first day? With all the excitement, curiosity, and wonder? Every little thing would excite you.
The poet then gives the example of Eve when she got to experience morning for the first time. She says that Eve was like an ingénue in the East; a naive woman experiencing the world for the first time.
The Reality: A Mix of Both
You grind the coffee
with the small roar of a mind
trying to clear itself. I set
the table, glance out the window
where dew has baptized every
The final stanza tells us about the result of this imaginary conversation. The speaker experiences a roar in the mind trying to clear itself. It is nihilism in work.
The speaker however looks at the world with an optimistic eye. She looks at how the dew in the early morning has “baptized” every living surface.
In conclusion, the speaker has these imaginary conversations with herself, and there is a tug-of-war going on between the nihilistic and optimistic outlook.
A part of her just wants the day to be done, looking at every little task and chore as an obstacle, dreading to go over it.
But another part of her mind wants to enjoy every day and treat every event and thing with excitement as if she is experiencing it for the first time.
All of this happens while she is preparing the morning coffee. The poem shows the working of the poet’s mind, and not just the poet but almost everyone in this world.
The Theme and Essence of the Poem
The poem’s essence and theme is the way you perceive the world around you. The philosophy of life you choose decides your day and your life.
There are many ways to see the same thing, each way offering a different way of living. You can view the day as your last, or as your first, and that makes all the difference.