Turn-to-Another Structure

In some poems, a major turn occurs when the poem’s speaker literally turns to talk to another person, an auditor often not announced at the beginning of the poem.

This kind of turn occurs in enough poems that it deserves to have its own structure named for it.  However, before listing some of these poems, it is important to note that, while many structures generally overlap (for example, many poems employing the retrospective-prospective structure also employ the list-with-a-twist structure) and while many structures can overlap and/or interact in any one poem, it is almost certain that poems employing the turn-to-another structure also will employ another structure and can (and perhaps should) be thought of as employing at least one other structure.

The reason for this is simple: detecting the fact that a poem’s speaker turns to another is significant, but it is only the start of really sorting out what the turn is and means–it is vital, of course, additionally to sort out the content and effect of the turn…that will have much to say additionally about what kind of turn the turn-to-another is.  For example, if in a particular poem the other completely agrees with the speaker, then it seems the turn is intended to offer a kind of confirmation of the poem.  However, if the other critiques the speaker, the turn very likely is ironic.

Here are some poems using (at least) the turn-to-another structure:

“Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold

“One o’Clock in the Morning,” by Charles Baudelaire

“To a Woman Passing By,” by Charles Baudelaire

“One Art,” by Elizabeth Bishop

“8 Count,” by Charles Bukowski

“Caesarion,” by Constantine Cavafy

“The Eolian Harp,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge  Sara, of course, is present at the outset of this poem; however, by the poem’s final stanza she has become a very different kind of Sara, a very different kind of other/listener: one who challenges the vision of the poem’s speaker.

“This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Zamira Loves Wolves,” by Antonio Colinas (translated by Paul Archer)

“The Rain,” by Robert Creeley

“About That,” by The Cyborg Jillian Weise

“Demeter’s Last Stand,” by Joanne Diaz

Diaz reads “Demeter’s Last Stand” and other poems here.

“Fragments,” by Stephen Dobyns

“To Orpheus,” by Blas Falconer

“Once There Was a Tree,” by Chasity Gunn

“She,” by Jim Harrison

Ode 3.30, by Horace

“Will Be Done,” by Tom C. Hunley

“Before the Mirror on New Year’s Eve,” by Philip Metres

“Street Fight,” by Wayne Miller

“An Equation for My Children,” by Wilmer Mills

“Picking Blueberries, Austerlitz, New York, 1957,” by Mary Oliver (Here, the former self is the other.)

“In Passing,” by Stanley Plumly

“The Idea of Order at Key West,” by Wallace Stevens

“I Will Love the Twenty-First Century,” by Mark Strand

“It is a beauteous evening, calm and free…,” by William Wordsworth

“Tintern Abbey,” by William Wordsworth


Because of the generic demand that it include mention of the poet’s name in its final stanza, the ghazal is a form that also often features a turn at poem’s end in which the poet (often the poem’s speaker up to that point) addresses her/himself as another.  Here are a few examples:

“There Are So Many Platos,” by Robert Bly  “There Are So Many Platos” and numerous additional poems employing the kind of turn described above can be found in Bly’s My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy: Poems (New York: Harper Collins, 2005).


And here are some works that turn to speak directly to a general “you,” as if (at least at some level) emphasizing to the reader/audience that the poem really, in fact, is being addressed to them:

“The Room,” by John Ashbery

“Infirm,” by Gwendolyn Brooks

 “Lord Open Road,” a song by Otis Gibbs

“The Dark Hills,” by Edwin Arlington Robinson

“Transformation,” by Adam Zagajewski


And here are some poems in which the speaker steadfastly determines not to turn to another, to not dispel a cherished notion:

“The Shadow on the Stone,” by Thomas Hardy

“Twenty-One Love Poems [(The Floating Poem, Unnumbered)],” by Adrienne Rich

3 responses

30 07 2011
The Refusal to Turn « Structure & Surprise

[…] of a poem.  In Thomas Hardy’s “The Shadow on the Stone,” a variation on the “turn-to-another structure,” the refusal to turn lies at the heart of the poem: the speaker in Hardy’s poem will not make […]

28 09 2015
Praise for Structure & Surprise | Structure & Surprise

[…] of the turn. Want proof? Check out her poem “Makeup,” and revel in the poem’s turn-to-another, its soulful, prayer-full, playful […]

27 06 2022
Realizing the Turn in Jonathan Culler’s Theory of the Lyric | Structure & Surprise

[…] is directly applicable to a kind of turn I’ve been thinking about and gathering instances of: the turn-to-another structure. I’ve sensed intuitively how compelling such turning can be; however, I’ve not yet […]

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