Retrospective-Prospective Structure

The retrospective-prospective structure is a two-part structure that begins with a consideration of past events and then turns to look ahead to the future or else look a present situation differently.  Mark Yakich discusses the retrospective-prospective structure more fully in Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns.  Below are supplemental poems and discussion.

Although it might also be considered a poem employing the dejection-elation structure, the following pretty clearly also employs the retrospective-prospective pattern:

“Daffodils,” by William Wordsworth

Although it clearly involves some aspects of the concessional structure, the following also (and predominantly) employs the retrospective-prospective structure:

“America,” by Claude McKay

Here’s a poem I wrote, called “Apology.”  The title is derived from the term “apologia pro vita sua,” or a defense of one’s life.

For some other examples of poems employing this structure, check out:

“The Blade,” by William Aberg (in The Listening Chamber (Fayetteville: U of Arkansas P, 1997), 3.)

“He Resigns,” by John Berryman

“I Was Minor,” by Olena Kalytiak Davis

“The Realm of Spirit,” by Michael Fried (in The Next Bend in the Road, p. 16).

“To Earthward,” by Robert Frost

“Nature,” by Tony Hoagland

“Visitation,” by Tony Hoagland (in Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf, 2010), 52).

Note how in “Visitation” the memory is offered in the present.

“In My Thirty-Eighth Year, Remembering My Nineteenth,” by Tom C. Hunley (in Octopus (Winside, Nebraska: Logan House, 2008).

“Just This,” by W. S. Merwin

“Something I’ve Not Done,” by W. S. Merwin

“Wendung,” by Rainer Maria Rilke (translated as “Turning-Point” in The Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell (NY: Vintage, 1989).

Additionally, if you’re interested in an example of a use of the retrospective-prospective structure outside of poetry, check out Barack Obama’s speech accepting the nomination to be the Democratic candidate for President here.  In this speech, after employing the life circumstances of 106-year-old Anne Nixon Cooper to survey the history of the past century, Obama then turns to ask what we will make of the next century.  A gorgeous use of this retrospective-prospective’s structural maneuver.

4 responses

4 11 2011
Friday Prompt: STRUCTURE & SURPRISE | Lantern Review Blog

[…] of the structures discussed in Structure & Surprise is the retrospective-prospective structure, a two-part structure that begins with a retrospective discussion of the past and then moves toward […]

19 02 2012
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[…] the retrospective-prospective structure, I gave participants a new handout, one of “Last Lines” from the same two poets, Olds and […]

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