Epiphanic Structure

In her entry in “Endless Structures” in Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns, Rachel Zucker refers to three poems that turn to sudden revelation near their conclusion.  Here are links to those poems:

“Archaic Torso of Apollo,” by Rainer Maria Rilke

Here is Mark Doty on Rilke’s great poem.

“A Blessing,” by James Wright

“Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” by James Wright

Other poems that feature a sudden, final revelation include:

“The Purpose of Poetry,” by Jared Carter (from The Darkened Rooms of Summer: New and Selected Poems, p. 41)

“The Catalpa,” by John Ciardi

“Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh,” by Thomas James

“Passengers,” by Denis Johnson

“Inside,” by Heather McHugh

“Just,” by Alan Shapiro

“The Rose,” by Jean Valentine

“The Impossible,” by Bruce Weigl

“Body as Argument,” by Jillian Weise (in The Amputee’s Guide to Sex (Soft Skull, 2007), p. 81).


Terrance Hayes’s “American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin” (“Rilke ends his sonnet ‘Archaic Torso of Apollo’ saying”) offers an intriguing take on–and perhaps critique of–the epiphanic turn.

5 responses

8 05 2012
Writing a Metaphor-to-Meaning Poem « Structure & Surprise

[…] Here are two student poems that ended up fitting the metaphor-to-meaning structure perfectly.  Yet, even though these poems closely engage the structure, they do so in very different ways.  With the metaphoric status of the blister(-as-poem) remaining a mystery until the end, Anjelica Rodriguez’s “Blister” makes a beautiful kind of surprising sense.  However, the turn in Stephen Whitfield’s “Maturity” is more sudden, more shocking—it resonates with what Rachel Zucker calls the epiphanic structure. […]

16 01 2014
Turning the Bad Poem into the Great | Structure & Surprise

[…] Rachel Zucker discusses “Archaic Torso of Apollo” as a kind of turn that she calls “the Epiphanic structure.”  About poems using this kind of structure, this pattern of turns, Zucker states, “The […]

14 06 2017
Some Surprising Lesson Plans | Structure & Surprise

[…] Also of particular interest is lesson 4, “Wonder: The Poet Surprises Herself,” which focuses on a kind of turn we here have come to call, after Rachel Zucker’s naming it as such, an “epiphanic poem.” […]

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

[…] one of the poems with the shocking kind of turn that Rachel Zucker describes in her writing on the epiphanic turn. At the Voltage Poetry site, the dynamics of the poem’s turning are considered by James […]

20 07 2022
Lucy Alford’s *Structures* of Poetic Attention | Structure & Surprise

[…] connected, including the midcourse turn, the emblem structure, the metaphor-to-meaning structure, the epiphanic structure. That is, there are traditions that should have been considered by Alford, not simply particular […]

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