"W. That Pro/Visor: On The Train" Moves Toward Print
Temple returns to the separation of this poem into two stanzas for its publication in book form. While the magazine publication formed an elongated column with its shorter lines, this version introduces fewer line breaks. For example, the final line of this version comprises the last two lines of the version that appeared in The Curiously Strong. Having experimented with line breaks to emphasize the adjective “generally” in earlier versions, Temple here allows it to run into the composite phrase “generally accepted” without asking a reader to pause.
Another amendment we can note is the shift from “my / 2 inch pencil” to “a pencil”: this both aligns the object with the pound note—never identified as “my”—and erases the only other use of a symbol (number or currency sign) in the poem. The size of the pencil, however, offered far more detail than the mere denomination of currency: perhaps it indicated the poet’s desire to revel in the details of an object, a desire he frustrated by obtruding on the viewed scene with this very pencil. Reducing it to merely “a pencil” enacts a touch of the self-effacement that the poet regrets he did not maintain.
As I have already discussed, line and stanza breaks can offer potentially disparate versions of a poem. However, it is not only vertical but also horizontal spacing that structures “W. That Pro/Visor: On the Train.” In lines 3 and 10 in the press typescript displayed to the right, extra space occurs between “Echo the ill” and “self-effacement when that.” The first example appears to have the effect of punctuation, separating a sentence that takes “the working man” as its subject from the following sentence that takes “the ill / (mentally cat” as its subject. The space also draws attention to the unusually reversed qualification and odd punctuation of “ill / (mentally,” adding to the absurdity of such a description of a cat. Perhaps the space mimics the separation and blurring of boundaries as the cat “across the aisle is jumping,” a curiously dislocating formation, just as the poet switches his focus. As John Temple remarked to me, after four decades the reference to a cat "emerges in all its surreal literalness" but was originally "a bit of hiptalk," an American slang term.
The second example of unusually lengthy horizontal spacing does not function to separate sentences like a period but instead offers a brief pause between a clause and a qualifying phrase as a comma would. Like the earlier partition of “generally," it appears to reinforce the totality of “complete self-effacement” with a weighty (and, of course, silently self-effacing) pause before enabling that totality to be undercut, even before the line ends, with the final qualifying addendum.
In the galley proofs displayed to the left, the underlining used for typewritten documents is substituted with the italics enabled by more advanced printing technology, just as underlined book titles in handwritten notes become italicized through word processing software. While an underline can function more structurally as it floats between words on the page, italicization is a visual cue confined to specific words. Both, of course, are intended to emphasize particular phrases.
The second italicized section in the poem consists simply of the word “complete.” It heightens the emphasis also provided through repetition of this adjective and suggests a shift in tone that might begin to provoke the reader’s skepticism as to how far the poem might endorse Keats’s proscription. The first italicized section is suggestive of a similar shift in tone because it indicates the moment when the voice of the observing poet becomes the voice of the poet who observes himself, experiencing a frustrating self-consciousness.