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Lake

Lake

Lakes are inland bodies of standing water. Although millions of lakes are scattered over Earth's surface, most are located in higher latitudes and mountainous areas. Canada alone contains almost 50 percent of the world's lakes. Lakes can be formed by glaciers, tectonic plate movements, river and wind currents, and volcanic or meteorite activity. Some lakes are only seasonal, drying up during parts of the year.

The study of lakes, ponds, and other freshwater bodies is called limnology (pronounced lim-NOL-o-gee). Although ponds are considered small, shallow lakes, there is one important difference between the two bodies of water: temperature. Ponds generally have a consistent temperature throughout, whereas lakes have various temperature layers, depending on the season.

The Great Lakes of the United States and Canada are the world's largest system of freshwater lakes. Lake Superior, the northernmost of the Great Lakes, is the world's largest freshwater lake with an area of 31,820 square miles (82,730 square kilometers). Lake Titicaca in the Andes Mountains on the border between Peru and Bolivia is the world's highest large freshwater lake at 12,500 feet (3,800 meters) above sea level.

Some freshwater lakes become salty over time, especially in arid regions. Because the water in these lakes evaporates quickly, the salt from inflowing waters reaches a high concentration. Among the world's greatest salt lakes are the Caspian Sea, Dead Sea, and Great Salt Lake. Covering an area of about 144,000 square miles (372,960 square kilometers), the Caspian Sea is the largest lake in the world. At 1,292 feet (394 meters) below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest lake in the world.

Origins of lakes

Most lakes on Earth were formed as a result of glacier activity. Earth's glacial ice formed and extended into what is now Canada, the northernmost United States, and northern Europe. As the heavy, thick ice pushed along, it created crevices by scouring out topsoil and even carving into bedrock (the solid rock that lies beneath the soil). Glacial growth peaked about 20,000 years ago, after which time the ice slowly began to melt. As the ice melted, the glaciers retreated, but the basins formed by glaciers remained and filled with water from the melting glaciers.

Movements of Earth's crust, water, and wind can also form lakes. The moving of the plates that compose Earth's crust (called tectonic activity) often forms basins, especially along fault lines (where plates meet and move against each other). These basins or depressions fill with water, forming lakes such as Lake Baikal in Siberia.

Words to Know

Blowout: Lake basin created in coastal or arid region by strong winds shifting sand.

Caldera: Volcanic crater that has collapsed to form a depression greater than 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) in diameter.

Eutrophication: Natural process by which a lake or other body of water becomes enriched in dissolved nutrients, spurring aquatic plant growth.

Limnology: Study of lakes, ponds, and other freshwater bodies.

Oxbow lake: Lake created when a loop of a river is separated from the main flow by gravel, sand, and silt deposits.

Solution lake: Lake created when groundwater erodes bedrock, resulting in a sinkhole.

Turnover: Mixing and flip-flopping of the differing temperature layers within a lake.

Water currents and land erosion by water form oxbow and solution lakes. Oxbow lakes are created when winding rivers such as the Mississippi change course, carrying water through twists and turns that form loops. As deposits build up and separate a loop from the main flow of the river, an oxbow lake such as Lake Whittington in Mississippi forms. Solution lakes result from groundwater eroding the bedrock above it, creating a sinkhole. Lakes from sinkholes are the predominant type in Florida and on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Wind can also create lake basins called blowouts, which usually occur in coastal or arid regions. Blowouts created by shifted sand are typical in northern Texas, New Mexico, southern Africa, and parts of Australia.

A few lakes are formed by volcanic activity or meteors. After erupting, some volcanoes collapse, forming basins that collect water. Volcanic basins with diameters greater than one mile are called calderas. Crater Lake in Oregon (the seventh deepest lake in the world) is a caldera 1,932 feet (590 meters) deep, 6 miles (10 kilometers) long, and 5 miles (8 kilometers) wide. The largest meteorite-formed lake in the world is found in New Quebec Crater (formerly Chubb Crater) in northern Quebec, Canada. It is 823 feet (250 meters) deep inside a crater about 2 miles (3 kilometers) wide.

Water circulation

Water circulation is the mixing of water in a lake. When the three temperature layers of a lake mix and change places, a lake is said to undergo

turnover. Turnover occurs when water in an upper layer is denser, or heavier, than the layer of water underneath it. Cooler water tends to be denser than warmer water. Deeper water is generally both denser and colder than shallow water.

In autumn, the upper layers of a lake cool down because of the cooling air above. Eventually, these layers, mixed by winds, cool to a temperature lower than that of the layer at the bottom of the lake. When this occurs, the lowest layer rises to the surface, mixing with the other layers. This process is called fall turnover.

In spring, ice covering a lake melts and mixes with the upper layer, which then becomes denser than the layers beneath. Mixing takes place and the whole lake turns over. This is spring turnover.

Lake threats

Pollution is the major threat to the life of a lake. Acid rain is formed by sulfates and nitrates emitted from coal-burning industries and automobile exhaust pipes. These chemicals combine with moisture and sunlight in the atmosphere to form sulfuric and nitric acids that enter lakes via rain and other precipitation. Acid rain is 10 times more acidic than normal rain. When a freshwater lake becomes too acidic, its life-forms gradually die. Other chemical pollutants include fertilizers and pesticides, which enter lakes through soil run-offs into streams. Pesticides are toxic to fish, while fertilizers can cause eutrophication (pronounced YOU-trofi-KAY-shun).

Eutrophication is the natural process by which a lake or other body of water becomes enriched in dissolved nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus) that spur aquatic plant growth. Increased plant growth leads to an increase in the organic remains on the bottom of a lake. Over time, perhaps centuries, the remains build up, the lake becomes shallower, and plants take root. Finally, as plant life fills in the water basin, the lake turns into a marsh and then a meadow.

Chemical pollutants, including phosphorous and nitrogen compounds, can artificially accelerate this aging process. The growth of algae and other plant life is overstimulated, and they quickly consume most of the dissolved oxygen in the water. Soon, the lake's oxygen supply is fully depleted and all life in it dies.

[See also Eutrophication; Ice ages; River; Water ]

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lake (body of water)

lake, inland body of standing water occupying a hollow in the earth's surface. The study of lakes and other freshwater basins is known as limnology. Lakes are of particular importance since they act as catchment basins for close to 40% of the landscape, supply drinking water, generate electricity, are used to irrigate fields, and serve as recreational areas.

The Environment of Lakes

The primary source of lake water is precipitation that may enter the depression directly, as runoff from surrounding higher ground, or through underground springs. Unique flora and fauna live around a lake and vary depending on the size and shape of the lake and the surrounding rocks and soil. Flora and fauna in the lake are usually found in three zones: the littoral zone closest to the shallow water shore; the limnetic, in the open, well-lit water away from most vegetation; and the lower profundal zones areas of low oxygen and light.

Ponds are generally small, shallow lakes; the criterion for differentiating between ponds and lakes is usually temperature. Ponds have a more consistent temperature throughout; while lakes, because they are deeper, have a stratified temperature structure that depends on the season.

Global Distribution of Lakes

Lakes are not evenly distributed on the earth's surface; most are located in high latitudes and mountainous regions. Canada alone contains nearly 50% of the world's lakes. Although lakes are usually thought to be freshwater bodies, many lakes, especially in arid regions, become quite salty because a high rate of evaporation concentrates inflowing salts. The Caspian Sea, Dead Sea, and Great Salt Lake are among the greatest of the world's salt lakes. The Great Lakes of the United States and Canada is the world's largest system of freshwater lakes. Lake Superior alone is the world's largest freshwater lake with an area of 31,820 sq mi (82,414 sq km), although there is a larger volume of freshwater in Lake Baykal. The Caspian Sea is the largest lake in the world, with an area of c.144,000 sq mi (372,960 sq km). Lake Titicaca in the Andes Mts. of South America is the world's highest large lake at 12,500 ft (3,800 m) above sea level; the Dead Sea is the lowest at c.1,400 ft (425 m) below sea level.

Formation and Fate of Lakes

Many lakes were formed as a result of glacial action during the Pleistocene ice sheets. In some areas, as exemplified by the Great Lakes, basins were carved into bedrock by the erosive action of the advancing ice mass. Lake basins are also formed by glacial moraine deposits that dam preexisting stream valleys. Lakes also form in calderas, created by the collapse of volcanic craters. Where extensive limestone deposits underlie a region, groundwater can dissolve great volumes of the limestone, forming caves that often contain underground lakes and eventually, if the roofs collapse, leave deep lake basins. Tectonic activity in the earth's crust forms lake basins in many ways, such as fault-generating rift valleys as those found in E Africa, that often fill with water. Oxbow lakes form in abandoned stream channels in floodplains of meandering rivers. Deposition of sediment along a shoreline can cut off bays, forming coastal lagoons. Humans often form lakes by building dams across river valleys for flood control, hydroelectric generation, or recreational purposes.

Lakes are transient features on the earth's surface and generally disappear in a relatively short period of geologic time by a combination of processes (e.g., erosion of an outlet or climatic changes that bring drier conditions). In a process called eutrophication, a lake gradually fills with organic and inorganic sediment, becoming a swamp or bog, and eventually a meadow. Human activity has greatly increased the rates of eutrophication; urban and suburban land construction activities result in increased discharge of soil debris into streams draining into lakes, filling them.

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Lake

Lake

The Lake (Senijextee, Gens des Lacs) lived on both sides of the Columbia River from Kettle Falls in northeastern Washington into British Columbia to the Arrow Lakes, on the Kettle River, and on the lower Kootenay River. Their culture was of the general Plateau type and they spoke an Interior Salish language. Most of them now live on or near the Colville Indian Reservation in northeastern Washington as part of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and are generally assimilated into European-American society. Their Current population is unknown, but they probably number about three hundred.

Bibliography

Curtis, Edward (1911). The North American Indian. Vol. 11. Norwood, Mass. Reprint. Johnson Reprint Corp., 1970.

Teit, James A. (1930). The Salishan Tribes of the Western Plateau. U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, 45th Annual Report (1927-1928), 37-396. Washington, D.C.

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lake

lake1 / lāk/ • n. a large body of water surrounded by land: [in names] Lake Superior. ∎  a pool of liquid: the fish was served in a bright lake of spicy carrot sauce. DERIVATIVES: lake·let / -lit/ n. lake2 • n. [often with adj.] an insoluble pigment made by combining a soluble organic dye and an insoluble mordant. ∎  a purplish-red pigment of this kind, originally one made with lac, used in dyes, inks, and paints.

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lake (in dyeing)

lake, in dyeing, an insoluble pigment formed by the reaction between an organic dye and a mordant. The color of a lake depends upon the mordant as well as the dye used. Generally, lakes are not as colorfast as many inorganic dyes, but their colors are more brilliant.

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lake

lake1 body of water surrounded by land; †pond, pool XIII; †pit, grave XIV. ME. lac—(O)F.— L. lacus basin, tank, lake, pool, rel. to Gr. lákkos hole, ditch, Gael., Ir. loch LOCH, OE. lagu, ON. lǫgr sea, water, OSl, loky pool, reservoir.

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lake

lake Inland body of water, generally of considerable size and too deep to have rooted vegetation completely covering the surface. The expanded part of a river and a reservoir behind a dam are also termed lakes.

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lake

lake2 reddish pigment. XVII. unexpl. var. of LAC.

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lake

lakeache, awake, bake, betake, Blake, brake, break, cake, crake, drake, fake, flake, forsake, hake, Jake, lake, make, mistake, opaque, partake, quake, rake, sake, shake, sheikh, slake, snake, splake, stake, steak, strake, take, undertake, wake, wideawake •bellyache • clambake • headache •backache • pancake • teacake •seedcake • beefcake • cheesecake •fishcake • johnnycake • tipsy cake •rock cake • shortcake • oatcake •oilcake • fruitcake • cupcake •pat-a-cake • cornflake • snowflake •rattlesnake • handbrake • mandrake •heartbreak • airbrake • daybreak •jailbreak • canebrake • windbreak •tiebreak • corncrake • outbreak •footbrake • muckrake • earache •firebreak • namesake • keepsake •handshake • milkshake • heartache •beefsteak • sweepstake • stocktake •out-take • uptake • grubstake •wapentake • toothache • seaquake •kittiwake • moonquake • earthquake

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Lake

Lake

Origins of lakes

Aging of lakes

Salinity, wind, temperature, and light

Water circulation

Lake threats

Resources

Lakes are inland bodies of freshwater. They range in size from small bodies of water that can be entirely navigated using a rowboat to the Great Lakesthe connected lakes that form the largest collection of freshwater on Earth.

Lakes are plentiful millions of them are found over Earths surface. Lakes are classified on the basis of origin, age, salinity, fertility, and water circulation. They can be formed by glaciers, tectonic plate movements, river and wind currents, and even by volcanic activity or in the aftermath of a meteorite impact.

Lakes can also be a phase of evolution in the aging process of a bay or estuary. Some lakes are only seasonal, drying up during parts of the year. As a lake changes over time, it can become a marsh, bog, or swamp. Part of the temporal change has to do with the composition of the lake water. Young lakes have clear water with less organic matter, while older lakes have murkier water and higher levels of organic matter as well as nitrogen, phosphorous, and detritus (decaying material).

Another aspect of a lakes composition is salinity. Salinity is a measure of the dissolved ionic components in lake water. High salinity lakes, that is, lakes whose salt content is elevated (although no to the level of saltwater), have high levels of precipitates and less organic matter, whereas lower salinity lakes have fewer precipitates and more organic matter.

Lake shape, climate, and salinity each effect water movement within a lake, contributing to an individual lakes annual circulation patterns. Most lakes exchange surface water with bottom water at least once during the year, but multiple factors influence

this complex process. Life within a lake is also determined by multiple factors. The study of fresh water, including lakes and ponds, is called limnology.

Origins of lakes

In northern latitudes, most lakes were formed as a result of glacier activity. Earths glacial ice formed and extended into what is now Canada, the northernmost United States, and northern Europe. As the heavy, thick ice pushed along, it scoured out topsoil, creating crevices in the former landscape. Glacial growth peaked about 20,000 years ago, after which time the ice slowly began to melt. As the ice melted and the glaciers retreated, basins formed by glaciers remained. These filled with water from the melting glaciers. Lake basins formed at the edge of glaciers were generally not as deep as basins underneath glaciers. The shallower lakes are called ice-block or depression lakes; the lakes formed under glaciers (some more than 1 mile or 1.6 kilometers high) are called ice-scour lakes.

Movements of earth, water, and wind can also form lakes. Rock deformations of Earths crust occur as folds, tilts, or sinking, usually along fault lines. Depressions created can fill with water, forming lakes such as Lake Baikal in Siberia. It may seem peculiar to state that water forms lakes also, but water currents and land erosion by water form specific types of lakes: oxbow and solution lakes. Oxbow lakes are created as old and winding rivers change course and establish new channels that isolate the bending portions. An example is the Mississippi River, which contains an oxbow lake called Lake Whittington. Solution lakes result from ground water eroding the bedrock above it, creating a sinkhole. Sinkholes are the predominant type in Florida and on the Yucatan Peninsula. Wind can also create lake basins called blowouts; such lakes usually occur in coastal or arid areas. Blowouts created by sand shifted in arid regions are typical of lakes in northern Texas, New Mexico, southern Africa, and parts of Australia.

Less commonly, lakes can form due to the impact of a meteorite or because of volcanic activity. Gases at high pressure under crests of volcanic lava can explode, forming basins that collect water. Volcanic basins up to 1 mile (1.6 kilometer) in diameter are called craters, and those with greater diameters are called calderas. Crater Lake in Oregon is a caldera of great depth; indeed, it the seventh deepest lake in the world. The largest well-documented meteorite-formed lake in the world is Chubb Lake in Quebec. Lake Chubb is 823 feet (250 meters) deep inside a crater 10,990 feet (3,350 meters) wide.

Lakes can be created when a watercourse is blocked. Natural dams can be made by streams or beavers. Humans also deliberately dam a watercourse; the controlled flow of the lake water through turbines positioned in the dam can be used to generate electricity.

Aging of lakes

Lake formation and aging are natural periods in the lifespan of a lake. Some lakes have a short lifespan of 100-1,000 years, although many lakes will exist for 10,000 years or longer, but there are lakes that only exist in damper seasons of the year. As water tends to support life, lakes are often assessed based on their fertilitythe life they can and do support. The deposits in lake basins have layers (strata) that reveal details about a lakes history. At any point in time, a lakes fertility is related to water stratification by regions of similar temperature and light penetration.

Fertility is governed by a number of biological and chemical factors. The photosynthetic plankton that grow on a lakes surface are eaten by zooplankton; these plankton make up the primary link in the lakes food chain. Photoplankton contribute to a lakes fertility as a food source and as an oxygen source through photosynthesis. Plankton are consumed by aquatic invertebrates which are, in turn, eaten by small and larger fish.

Minerals such as phosphorous and oxygen are also required for life to flourish. Oxygen concentration is primarily due to photosynthesis in lake plants and surface wind agitation. Some oxygen can also come from streams that empty into the lake.

Lakes are classified as oligotrophic, mesotrophic, or eutrophic depending on age and whether they have little, some, or a lot of life, respectively. Oligotrophic lakes are the youngest and are typically the least fertile lakes; they tend to be deep with sparse aquatic vegetation and few fish. Mesotrophic lakes are middle-aged lakes that are less deep and more fertile than oligotrophic lakes. Eutrophic lakes (the oldest lakes) are most fertile and even more shallow than mesotrophic lakes. Eutrophic lakes eventually reach the point where demand for oxygen exceeds the oxygen supply. Eutrophic lakes have many aquatic life forms that eventually die and decompose; decomposition uses up oxygen that could have supported additional life. Decomposing material collects on the lake bottom, which decreases the depth of the water body. As oxygen becomes scarcer, less life is able to exist.

Salinity, wind, temperature, and light

One can focus on almost any characteristic of water in a lake and see that the particular factor influences and is influenced by other characteristics of the same water. A profile of any given lake must take several of these factors into account. For example, salinity and temperature are two factors that affect life in opposing ways. High salinity does not favor most life other than some algal and shrimp growth. An example is the Dead Sea; this lake has a salinity seven times that of seawater, which makes it very inhospitable to most life (although salt-loving bacteria thrive). Temperature effects fertility both directly and indirectly. Most fish species prefer certain temperatures. While largemouth bass flourish at 75°F (24°C), trout prefer 50°F (10°C), for example. Indirectly, temperature affects fertility by playing a large part in determining oxygen capacity of water. Warmer water holds less oxygen than colder water.

Salinity remains relatively constant in some lakes, while it tends to increase significantly in others. A lake that has outflow, such as a runoff stream, keeps within a normal salinity range for that lake. But lakes that have no runoff lose water over time to evaporation, and a higher salinity results.

Sunlight can only penetrate water to a limited depth. Both murky and choppy water decrease light penetrance. Submerged regions receiving light throughout are called euphotic. Since light is required by plants for photosynthesis, which produces oxygen, cloudy water generally has less oxygen. However, plants vary in how much light they require for growth. Some aquatic plants, such as hydrilla, can grow on the lakes littoral zone (part of the lake that slopes from the shore toward the benthos) 50 ft (15 m) under clear water. Other plants, like cattails, maiden cane, wild rice, and lily pads grow in 3 ft (1 m) or less of water closer to shore.

Water circulation

Water circulation is the mixing of water in a lake. Water mixes at the surface, within the top layer (epilimnion) and among layers. The bottom layer of water is called the hypolimnion, and the water between the hypolimnion and epilimnion makes up the metalimnion. The metalimnion is also called the thermocline, because a drastic temperature change occurs the lower one goes in it. Mixing is facilitated by wind at the epilimnion and is possible due to water density variation between layers. When layers mix and change places, a lake is said to turn over. Turnover occurs when water in an upper layer is heavier, or denser than the layer of water underneath it. Lakes that turn over once a year are described as being monomictic. Lakes that turn over twice a year, once in spring and once in fall, are dimictic. Lakes that turn over at least once a year are holomictic. Some lakes do not fully turn over at all due to high salt content; the high salt lower layer prevents hypolimnic turnover in these meromictic lakes.

The most controlling factors in lake circulation are changes and differences in water temperature; however, salinity, wind, and lake shape each have a role in circulation as well. Bowl-shaped lakes tend to turn over more easily than oxbow lakes. Water temperature determines water density, which, in turn, accounts for turnover. Water is at its minimum density in the form of ice. Warmer water is less dense than cooler water until cold water reaches 39.2°F (4°C), when it gets lighter. Deeper water is generally both denser and colder than shallower waterother than ice.

Tremendous variability exists in turnover patterns and date of onset. Polar lakes warm later in spring and cool sooner in fall than similar lakes in tropical regions. Ice may only melt away from some lakes for two months a year, resulting in slow fish growth compared to warmer climates. High altitude lakes also warm later and cool sooner than equivalent low altitude lakes. Tropical, high altitude lakes lose heat continuously, do not develop layers, and overturn continually, whereas sub-tropical, low altitude lakes that never freeze only layer in summer and turn over in winter.

Lake threats

Aside from the natural aging process, major threats to the longevity of lake fertility include pollution (including acid rain), eutrophication, and shoreline overdevelopment. Acid rain is formed by sulfates and nitrates emitted from coal-burning industries and automobile exhaust pipes. These chemicals combine with moisture and sunlight and are converted into sulfuric and nitric acids that enter lakes via precipitation. Acid rain has a pH of 4.5, contrasting with the normal rain pH value of 5.6. Since a single digit pH difference represents a 10-fold change in acidity (the pH scale is logarithmic), acid rain is more than 10 times more acidic than normal rain. Freshwater life generally prefers alkaline (above pH 7) conditions, but lake fertility is usually fairly functional down to a pH

KEY TERMS

Eutrophic Older, fertile lakes with thick basin deposits and several life forms.

Mesotrophic Middle-aged lakes with intermediate levels of basin deposits and numbers of life forms.

Oligotrophic Young lakes with the least amount of basin detritus and numbers of life forms.

Turnover The mixing and flip-flopping of thermal layers within a lake that results in nutrient mixing within the lake.

of 6.0. However, when pH drops to 5.0 and below, as the effects of acid rain accumulate, life forms are severely effected. Plants, plankton, insects, and fish all gradually disappear. Young and old organisms die first, followed by the young and middle-aged adults. Many bacteria even die. Other chemical pollutants include fertilizers and pesticides that drain into lakes through soil and enter through streams. Pesticides are toxic to fish, while fertilizers can cause eutrophication.

Eutrophication is the abundance of nutrients for fertile growth. It is a natural phenomenon in mature lakes. However, chemical pollutants, including phosphorous and nitrogen compounds, can artificially propel lakes to this state where the demand by aquatic animals on lake oxygen is great. Human-made eutrophication threatens to deplete lake oxygen which can kill most of a lakes fish. Some eutrophigenic lakes are now aerated by man to increase available oxygen.

Shore overdevelopment disrupts natural habitats and increases pollution. Shorelines that are built up with dirt to support construction of buildings can crush wet, rocky areas that some lake species use for spawning. In addition, shoreline plant life is sometimes removed to create sandy, recreational areas, and the influx of people usually increases pollution.

Resources

BOOKS

Hunter, Paul R., Michael Waite, and Elettra Ronchi, eds. Drinking Water and Infectious Disease: Establishing the Links. Boca Raton: CRC, 2002.

Percival, Steven, Martha Embry, Paul Hunter, Rachel Chalmers, Jane Sellwood, and Peter Wyn-Jones. Microbiology of Waterborne Diseases: Microbiological Aspects and Risks. New York: Academic Press, 2004.

Virgil, Kenneth M. Clean Water: An Introduction to Water Quality and Pollution Control. Eugene: Oregon State University Press, 2003.

Louise Dickerson

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Lake

Lake

Lakes are inland bodies of water—millions of which are scattered over the earth's surface. Lakes are classified on the basis of origin, age, salinity, fertility, and water circulation. Lakes can be formed by glaciers , tectonic plate movements, river and wind currents, and volcanic or meteorite activity. Lakes can also be a phase of evolution in the aging process of a bay or estuary. Some lakes are only seasonal, drying up during parts of the year. As a lake reaches old age, it can become a marsh, bog, or swamp. Young lakes have clear water with less organic matter , while older lakes have murkier water and higher levels of organic matter as well as nitrogen , phosphorous, and detritus or decaying matter. Salinity is a measure of the dissolved ionic components in lake water. High salinity lakes, salt lakes, have high levels of precipitates and less organic matter, whereas freshwater or low salinity lakes have fewer precipitates and more organic matter. Lake shape, climate, and salinity each effect water movement within a lake, contributing to an individual lake's annual circulation patterns. Most lakes exchange surface water with bottom water at least once during the year, but multiple factors influence this complex process. Life within any given lake is determined by multiple factors as well and is of considerable interest to fishermen and marine biologists. Lakes are used for several purposes other than for the food they contribute to the food chain: they are used for recreation and enhance scenic beauty. The study of fresh water, including lakes and ponds, is called limnology.


Origins

Although several geological phenomenon account for the formation of numerous lakes on Earth , most lakes were formed as a result of glacier activity. Earth's glacial ice formed and extended into what is now Canada, the northernmost United States, and northern Europe . As the heavy, thick ice pushed along, it scoured out top soil , creating crevices in the former landscape. Glacial growth peaked about 20,000 years ago, after which time the ice slowly began to melt. As the ice melted, the glaciers retreated, but the basins formed by glaciers remained and filled with water from the melting glaciers. Lake basins formed at the edge of glaciers were generally not as deep as basins underneath glaciers. The shallower lakes are called ice-block or depression lakes; the lakes formed under glaciers (some more than 1 mi [1.6 km] high) are called ice-scour lakes.

Movements of earth, water, and wind can also form lakes. Rock deformations of the earth's crust occur as folds, tilts, or sinking, usually along fault lines. Depressions
created can fill with water, forming lakes such as Lake Baikal in Siberia. It may seem peculiar to state that water forms lakes also, but water currents and land erosion by water form specific types of lakes: oxbow and solution lakes. Oxbow lakes are created as windy rivers change course. Windy rivers such as the Mississippi meander, carrying water through twists and turns; when they change direction at a particular twist or turn in the river, a loop can become separate from the main water flow. As deposits build up and separate the loop from the river, an oxbow lake such as Lake Whittington in Mississippi forms. Solution lakes result from ground water eroding the bedrock above it, creating a sinkhole. Sinkholes are the predominant type in Florida and on the Yucatan Peninsula. Wind can also create lake basins called blowouts; such lakes usually occur in coastal or arid areas. Blowouts created by sand shifted in arid regions are typical of lakes in northern Texas, New Mexico, southern Africa , and parts of Australia .

A few lakes result from meteors or volcanic activity. Gases at high pressure under crests of volcanic lava can explode, forming basins that collect water. Volcanic basins up to 1 mi (1.6 km) in diameter are called craters, and those with diameters greater than 1 mi (1.6 km) are called calderas. Crater Lake in Oregon is a caldera 1,932 ft (590 m) deep, 20 ft (6 m) in length, and 16 ft (5 m) in width. This makes it the seventh deepest lake in the world. The largest well-documented meteorite-formed lake in the world is Chubb Lake in Quebec. Lake Chubb is 823 ft (250 m) deep inside a crater 10,990 ft (3,350 m) wide.

Dams made by streams, beavers , and humans have also created lakes. Natural dams can be formed as a stream deposits debris at the point that it enters a river; the accumulated material can close off the stream, creating a lake. Man-made lakes have many characteristics in common with natural lakes, although water level can be less consistent in man-made lakes.


Age

Lake formation (or birth) and evolution (or aging) are natural periods of lake existence as they are for all living things. Some lakes have a short lifespan of 100-1,000 years, although many lakes will exist for 10,000 years or longer, but there are lakes that only exist in damper seasons of the year. Because people who study lakes have considerably shorter life spans, the chemical, physical, and life-supporting properties of water are used to classify lake age. As water tends to support life, lakes are often assessed based on what life they can and do support: their fertility. The deposits in lake basins have strata , or layers, that reveal details about a lake's history. And a lake's present fertility is related to water stratification by regions of similar temperature and light penetration.

Fertility is governed by a number of biological and chemical factors. The photosynthetic plankton that grow on a lake's surface are eaten by zooplankton ; these plankton make up the primary link in the lake's food chain. Photo plankton contribute to a lake's fertility as a food source and as an oxygen source through photosynthesis . Plankton are consumed by aquatic invertebrates which are, in turn, eaten by small and larger fish .

Minerals such as phosphorous and oxygen are also required for life to flourish. Phosphorous levels can vary over a range of parts per billion (ppb). Most fish require an oxygen concentration of at least 5 parts per million (ppm). Oxygen concentration is primarily due to photosynthesis in lake plants and surface wind agitation. Some oxygen can also come from tributary streams.

Lakes are classified as oligotrophic, mesotrophic, or eutrophic depending on age and whether they have little, some, or a lot of life, respectively. Oligotrophic lakes are the youngest and, usually, least fertile lakes; they tend to be deep with sparse aquatic vegetation and few fish. Mesotrophic lakes are middle-aged lakes that are less deep and more fertile than oligotrophic lakes. And eutrophic lakes (the oldest lakes) are most fertile and even more shallow than mesotrophic lakes. Eutrophic lakes eventually reach the point where demand for oxygen exceeds the oxygen supply. Eutrophic lakes have many aquatic life forms that eventually die and decompose; decomposition uses up oxygen that could have supported additional life. Decomposing material, detritus, collects on the lake's benthos (basin bottom), making the lake shallower. As oxygen becomes sparse, lakes approach senescence, full maturity to death.


Salinity, wind, temperature, and light

One can focus on almost any characteristic of water in a lake and see that the particular factor influences and is influenced by other characteristics of the same water. A profile of any given lake must take several of these factors into account. For example, salinity and temperature are two factors that seriously inhibit or promote life. High salinity does not favor most life other than some algal and shrimp growth. The Dead Sea, which has a salinity seven times that of seawater, has very low fertility. Temperature effects fertility both directly and indirectly. Most fish species prefer certain temperatures. While largemouth bass flourish at 75°F (24°C), trout prefer 50°F (10°C). Indirectly, temperature affects fertility by playing a large part in determining oxygen capacity of water. Warmer water holds less oxygen than colder water. Water at 45°F (7°C) can hold up to 12 ppm of oxygen; while 75°F (24°C) water can only hold a maximum of 8.5 ppm of oxygen.

Salinity remains relatively constant in some lakes, while it tends to increase significantly in others. A lake that has outflow, such as a runoff stream, keeps within a normal salinity range for that lake. But lakes that have no runoff lose water over time to evaporation , and a higher salinity results.

Wind plays an important role in water circulation, wave action, and surface temperature. On a warm, windy day, the surface water may be considerably warmer than the water beneath it. Since wind is directional and effects surface water more readily than lower water, it pushes warm water in the direction of the wind. The result can be a dramatic temperature difference between opposing shores of the same lake. The downwind shore may be as much as 30°F (16.7°C) warmer than the upwind shore. Strong winds can also create choppy waves that effectively decrease light penetrance.

Sunlight can only penetrate water to a limited depth. Both murky and choppy water decrease light penetrance. Submerged regions receiving light throughout are called euphotic. Since light is required by plants for photosynthesis, which produces oxygen, cloudy water generally has less oxygen. However, plants vary in how much light they require for growth. Some aquatic plants, such as hydrilla, can grow on the lake's littoral zone (part of the lake that slopes from the shore toward the benthos) 50 ft (15 m) under clear water. Other plants, like cattails , maidencane, wild rice , and lily pads grow in 3 ft (1 m) or less of water closer to shore.


Water circulation

Water circulation is the mixing of water in a lake. Water mixes at the surface, within the top layer, the epilimnion, and among layers. The bottom layer of water is called the hypolimnion, and the water between the hypolimnion and epilimnion makes up the metalimnion. The metalimnion is also called the thermocline, because a drastic temperature change occurs the lower one goes in it. Mixing is facilitated by wind at the epilimnion and is possible due to water density variation between layers. When layers mix and change places, a lake is said to turn over. Turnover occurs when water in an upper layer is heavier, or denser than the layer of water underneath it. Lakes that turn over once a year are said to be monomictic. Lakes that turn over twice a year, once in spring and once in fall, are called dimictic. Lakes that turn over at least once a year are called holomictic. Some lakes do not fully turn over at all due to high salt content; the high salt lower layer prevents hypolimnic turnover in these meromictic lakes.

The most controlling factors in lake circulation are changes and differences in water temperature; however, salinity, wind, and lake shape each have a role in circulation as well. Bowl-shaped lakes tend to turn over more easily than oxbow lakes. Water temperature determines water density which, in turn, accounts for turnover. Water is at its minimum density in the form of ice. Warmer water is less dense than cooler water until cold water reaches 39.2°F (4°C), when it gets lighter. Deeper water is generally both denser and colder than shallower water—other than ice.

In fall, the surface is cooled in proximity to the surrounding air. As this surface water cools, it sinks, mixing throughout the epilimnion. The epilimnion continues to cool and eventually matches the metalimnion in temperature. Wind mixes these two water layers, which then cool to temperatures lower than the hypolimnion temperature. Then the hypolimnion water mixes in with the rest of the water and rises to surface. If hypolimnion water was oxygen-depleted, then it will obtain more oxygen at the surface during the winter. During winter, the hypolimnion is warmer than the epilimnion-unless the entire lake freezes. This process is called fall turnover.

In spring, the ice warms, melts, and mixes within the epilimnion. As the entire epilimnion warms, it becomes denser than the hypolimnion, the whole lake turns over, and mixing takes place. This is spring turnover. As summer progresses, the metalimnion warms and the three temperature layers are apparent until fall. If snow has piled high onto the surface over the winter and blocked photosynthesis, then much lake life may die, resulting in a phenomenon called winterkill.

Tremendous variability exists in turnover patterns and date of onset. Polar lakes warm later in spring and cool sooner in fall than similar lakes in tropical regions. Ice may only melt away from some lakes for two months a year, resulting in slow fish growth compared to warmer climates. High altitude lakes also warm later and cool sooner than equivalent low altitude lakes. Tropical, high altitude lakes lose heat continuously, do not develop layers, and overturn continually, whereas sub-tropical, low altitude lakes that never freeze only layer in summer and turn over in winter.


Lake threats

Aside from the natural aging process, major threats to the longevity of lake fertility include pollution (including acid rain ), eutrophication , and shoreline overdevelopment. Acid rain is formed by sulfates and nitrates emitted from coal-burning industries and automobile exhaust pipes. These chemicals combine with moisture and sunlight and are converted into sulfuric and nitric acid that enter lakes via precipitation . Acid rain has a pH of four and half, contrasting with the normal rain pH value of 5.6. Since a single digit pH difference (say, from eight to nine) represents a 10-fold change in acidity, acid rain is more than 10 times more acidic than normal rain. Freshwater life generally prefers alkaline (basic, non-acidic) conditions, but lake fertility is usually fairly functional down to a pH of six. However, when pH drops to five and below, as the effects of acidrain accumulate, life forms are severely effected. Plants, plankton, insects , and fish all gradually disappear. Young and old organisms die first, followed by the young and middle-aged adults. Many bacteria even die. Other chemical pollutants include fertilizers and pesticides that drain into lakes through soil and enter through streams. Pesticides are toxic to fish, while fertilizers can cause eutrophication.

Eutrophication is the abundance of nutrients for fertile growth. It is a natural phenomenon in mature lakes. However, chemical pollutants, including phosphorous and nitrogen compounds, can artificially propel lakes to this state where the demand by aquatic animals on lake oxygen is great. Man-made eutrophication threatens to deplete lake oxygen which can kill most of a lake's fish. Some eutrophigenic lakes are now aerated by man to increase available oxygen.

Shore overdevelopment disrupts natural habitats and increases pollution. Shorelines that are built up with dirt to support construction of buildings can crush wet, rocky areas that some lake species use for spawning. In addition, shoreline plant life is sometimes removed to create sandy, recreational areas, and the influx of people usually increases pollution.

See also Ecosystem; Ice ages.


Resources

books

Cvancara, A. At the Water's Edge. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1989.

Sternberg, D. Fishing Natural. Lakes. R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company, 1991.


Louise Dickerson

KEY TERMS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Eutrophic

—Older, fertile lakes with thick basin deposits and several life forms.

Mesotrophic

—Middle-aged lakes with intermediate levels of basin deposits and numbers of life forms.

Oligotrophic

—Young lakes with the least amount of basin detritus and numbers of life forms.

Turnover

—The mixing and flip-flopping of thermal layers within a lake that results in nutrient mixing within the lake.

KEY TERMS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Eutrophic

—Older, fertile lakes with thick basin deposits and several life forms.

Mesotrophic

—Middle-aged lakes with intermediate levels of basin deposits and numbers of life forms.

Oligotrophic

—Young lakes with the least amount of basin detritus and numbers of life forms.

Turnover

—The mixing and flip-flopping of thermal layers within a lake that results in nutrient mixing within the lake.

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"Lake." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Encyclopedia.com. 10 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Lake." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lake-0

"Lake." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lake-0

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Lake

Lake

Rosanna Warren
2003

Rosanna Warren's poem "Lake" appears in her collection Departure, published in 2003. As the title suggests, the overall theme of this collection is one of parting ways—whether through intended separation, a relationship breakup, a slow sinking into dementia, or death. Several poems in the book were inspired by the mental illness and eventual death of Warren's mother, and several others focus on the strains of marriage and the difficulties of remaining in love. Regardless of the subject, however, most of the poems, including "Lake," are underlined with messages of farewell and exit.

"Lake" is a twenty-six-line, one-sentence work, heavily dependent on the use of water as a metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech that expresses an idea through the image of another object. That is, metaphors help explain thoughts or feelings by comparing them to something else, often something physical. In this poem, the speaker uses the touch and motion of water in a lake to describe the need for comfort in a time of sorrow. The water's gentle movement is like a caress to the person standing in it, but having to leave it and go back to the shore symbolizes the person's acknowledgment that temporary comfort must be abandoned in order to face the reality of sadness and loss.

"Lake" is a relatively brief but powerful poem whose plain language and clear imagery disguise the significance of its theme. It is at once simple and striking—a testament, perhaps, to Warren's ability to communicate a complex message with moving clarity.

A note about the line breaks in the poem: although some may consider the words "would be withdrawn" (in line 10) to be simply a continuation of line 9, which is too long to stretch across the allowed width of the page, the short phrases on the right margin of the rest of the poem appear to be significant enough to stand on their own. Their placement on the right side of the page is reason enough to consider them separately, but their content, too, merits a closer look. As such, this entry discusses "Lake" as a twenty-six-line poem rather than as an eighteen-line poem.

A copy of the poem is also available at the Slate online magazine website at http://slate.msn.com/?id=2073776, where it was posted a year before Departure was published. Note, however, that the line breaks appear differently on the website than they do in the published book.

Author Biography

Rosanna Warren was born July 27, 1953, in Fairfield, Connecticut. She is the daughter of two noted authors. Her father, Robert Penn Warren, won the Pulitzer Prize for both his fiction and his poetry, and her mother, Eleanor Clark, who published novels and works of nonfiction, won a National Book Award in 1965. Not surprisingly, Warren grew up in a home in which poems and stories were read aloud and books and journals were as common as many youngsters find televisions and computers today.

Warren's literary parents influenced her own desire to be a writer, and they were also able to provide her with an education that went well beyond the walls of typical grammar and high schools. When she was twelve, Warren studied French writers, such as LaFontaine, at a school in the south of France, and as a teenager, she fell in love with such Latin poets as Horace and Virgil. She eventually attended the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Rome and, later, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.

In 1975, Warren studied at the New York Studio School and then entered Yale University, graduating summa cum laude and earning a bachelor's degree in 1976. In 1980, she received her master's degree from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. She accepted her first teaching position at Vanderbilt University in 1981. The following year, she served as a visiting professor at Boston University, where she eventually accepted a permanent position as assistant professor of English and modern foreign languages. In 2004, she received the Metcalf Award for excellence in teaching at Boston University and has served as the Emma Ann MacLachlan Metcalf Professor in Humanities as well as a professor of English and French. In 1999, she was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Warren's first collection of poems, Snow Day, was published in 1981. Subsequent volumes include Each Leaf Shines Separate (1984), Stained Glass (1993)—winner of the Lamont Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets—and Departure (2003), which includes the poem, "Lake." Warren has also edited or coedited collections of other poets' works and was a cotranslator of Euripides: Suppliant Women (1995). She is at work on a literary biography of the early-twentieth-century French poet and painter Max Jacob.

Besides the Lamont Poetry Prize, Warren has received a Pushcart Prize, the Award of Merit in poetry, the Witter Bynner Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation Award. She is also the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, and, in 2000, she was the New York Times Resident in Literature at the American Academy in Rome.

Poem Text

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

Poem Summary

Line 1

The first line of "Lake" introduces an ambiguous "you" as its subject, and this individual is addressed throughout the poem. It is worth considering the actual identity of "you," because poets often use this second-person pronoun in various and interesting ways. Sometimes there is a detail or a description within the work that identifies—or even names—the "you." At other times, "you" can refer to the audience in general, drawing readers themselves into the poem by seeming to speak directly to them. Still other poets use "you" to mean the speaker him- or herself. That is, "you" really means "I," but referring to oneself in the second person allows a distance—or a chance to examine a situation more objectively—that the first person does not afford. Which is the case in "Lake"?

The short answer is that we do not know. But Warren is noted as an autobiographical poet, so this "you" could be someone in her personal life: her mother, whose illness and death were the basis for several poems in Departure, or her husband, since this poem falls within the so-called marriage section of Departure. Another viable option is that "you" is "I," whether referring to a generic speaker or to Warren herself. After considerable analysis, the bottom line is still the same: who "you" is does not affect the overall tone or message of the poem. It is simply a noteworthy subject that adds a little intrigue to the work. In this first line, then, the subject is standing in a lake, water up to the thighs, and "green light"—the lake's reflection—appears to bounce off his or her skin.

Line 2

The second line helps to further define the body of the person in the water, with the "hip hollows and stomach" reflecting the sunlight on the lake. But a different type of light is also mentioned in this line, one that seems out of place in a natural environment. A "pilot light" is a small jet of gas kept alight to ignite a gas burner, such as in a furnace or on a kitchen range. It is generally a blue flame, which plays off the green light mentioned in the previous line.

Line 3

This line introduces yet another odd allusion, or reference, this time to an ancient Greek god, most commonly known as the god of wine. Dionysus is also associated with all the effects that accompany drunkenness—from laughter, sexual arousal, and relaxation to forgetfulness, sickness, and violence. His correlation to sexual pleasure is called out in the poem in references to the body's midsection. The pilot light that flickers there in "ancient statues" is a metaphor for the constant desire that burns within a human being, regardless of his or her situation.

Lines 4–5

In these lines, the speaker watches the subject walk farther out into the lake. The vision of this deeper submergence makes the speaker think that the "water might rinse away" the pressing weight of something that troubles the subject. Note, however, that the thought lasts only "for a moment," suggesting that optimism is short-lived and that, in reality, the water cannot rinse away anyone's problems.

Line 6

Line 6 identifies the causes of the "heaviness" that the subject apparently endures. First, it is the weight "of your own seasons," meaning not only the person's age but perhaps also the toll that years of distressing experiences have taken on the body. Second, it is the burden "of illnesses not your own." This phrase introduces the real crux of the poem: a loved one in "your" life is seriously ill, and "you" can do nothing about it. The lake, however, offers a momentary "caress" of comfort for the person standing in it.

Lines 7–8

These lines suggest the deceptiveness of the water's soothing touch. It is described as "cool and faithless," implying that unlike most caresses, this one does not evoke warmth and promise. It does, however, lap "against your waist" and take the subject "in its arms," and the subject, in turn, gives in to the enticement—but note that it is only "a little." It is as though the subject understands how easy it is to be deceived by something that feels so comforting.

Lines 9–10

The first words of line 9 reemphasize the slightness with which the subject responds to the water's caress, and the remainder of the line, along with line 10, explains the reluctance to give too much. The subject knows "how soon and how lightly" the tender touch of the lake will "be withdrawn," so there is no reason to get used to its consolation. There is a deep sense of pessimism and foreboding evident in these words, and one cannot help but think something worse is about to come.

Lines 11–12

These lines pick up on the notion of "how soon" the subject will lose the solace of the water when he or she returns to the shore, which is knotted with tree roots. Line 12 portrays the common scene of a bather drying off after a dip, but it concludes with a misleading connotation. The word "restored" is generally a positive term, implying various good qualities or actions—renewal, healing, regained strength, and so forth—but readers need only scan the next line to know that the restoration here is not necessarily welcomed.

Lines 13–16

These four lines primarily convey the physical aspects of what is restored to the subject. The "weights and measures" refer to the difference between a body partially submerged in water and one standing on dry land. A person, of course, feels much lighter in water and will lose balance with increased depth. Many of the remaining images reflect pain in one form or another: "aches and scars," "cranky shoulder, cramping heel tendons, bad knees." All these references point to the irony of the word "restored" in line 12. The end of line 15 and the one-word line 16 also present an interesting twist. As noted, all the qualities that return to the subject on shore are physical thus far. But the final one brings back the poem's somber tone: "bad / dreams."

Line 17

Line 17 continues the allusion to the subject's dreams, employing an almost playful depiction with "you would recognize in the dark . . . as your own." Dreams, or nightmares, obviously happen when one is asleep, when the mind is "dark." It is also interesting to note specifically the words "your own," which seem directly connected to the same two words used twice in line 6.

Media Adaptations

  • Visit the Slate magazine website at http://slate.msn.com/?id=2073776 and hear Warren read "Lake." The website features a section called "A weekly poem, read by the author." The former poet laureate Robert Pinsky is the poetry editor for Slate and the creator of the weekly audio poem page.

Lines 18–19

The connection between the earlier part of the poem and this later part is further advanced in lines 18 and 19. The sentiment implied in "of illnesses not your own" is echoed in "how those you cannot heal would remain / unhealed." Once again, the end of one line is cautiously hopeful until the next line contradicts it. Loved ones who are ill will not remain in a good way—they will only remain unhealed.

Lines 20–21

In these lines, the speaker describes the sorrowful and futile attempts of someone trying to reach out and comfort the sick. Even though "you" lovingly "kiss them on the forehead," the subject gets no warm response. Instead, "they stare back out of the drift," as though completely preoccupied with their own dismal, consuming thoughts. Note the use of third-person plural to refer, presumably, to only one person with whom the subject is concerned. The vagueness and ambiguity of "them" and "they" provide no identity for the ill person and serve only to retain a curious distance between the speaker, the "you," and those who are unhealed.

Lines 22–23

These lines introduce the metaphor that brings the poem to a funereal, bleak end. The terminally ill are compared to mountains that inevitably "continue their slow, / degrading shuffle to the sea." Words such as "slow" and "shuffle" connote age or sickness or both, and the word "degrading" suggests the debilitating effects of disease on both the body and the mind.

Lines 24–26

The final three lines enhance the metaphor, bringing the poem back around to the depiction of the natural environment with which it began. But nature is now an ominous force—like disease—that human beings can neither stop nor guide. This sense of helplessness is compared to a simple lake "swallowed / in earth's gasp" when geological plates shift and rearrange both ocean floors and land masses. In the end, the poem's subject is resigned to the fact that the ill will soon be swallowed as well and, like an earthquake, nothing can prevent it from happening.

Themes

Terminal Illness

Although a specific disease is never identified in the poem, a major theme of "Lake" is the grief and resignation that naturally accompany serious illness, especially when it is terminal. Words such as "heaviness," "faithless," and "withdrawn" all point to a somber mindset, and the phrase "those you cannot heal would remain / unhealed" clearly implies that there is no recovery expected. Warren uses a water motif—a thematic or metaphoric element that recurs throughout a work—to portray both faint hope and final abandonment in the process of dealing with incurable sickness. In the beginning, the subject walks deeper into the lake in a halfhearted effort to "rinse away" emotional pain. Toward the middle of the poem, the "you" is back on the shore, drying off, while a loved one simply stares "back out of the drift," apparently lost in melancholy thoughts. In the end, mountains crumble to the sea, and the lake is "swallowed" by the ocean—a powerful act of nature, not to be denied, like death.

While "Lake" concludes on an obviously sad note, its overall sorrowful tone is evident long before, when the idea of illness is introduced. Even the futile attempt to alleviate grief with the water's caress seems mournful. The "you" is unable to enjoy a moment of solace because he or she knows the moment will soon be gone and there will be only dry, "rootwebbed" land to stand on. This pictorial description is simply a poetic way of saying that you cannot enjoy a moment of life, because the death of one you love is just around the corner. Essentially, the mere presence of terminal illness is a heavy weight on the shoulders of all it touches. In this poem, the identities of those touched are vague at best, but the heaviness of disease is unmistakable.

Disease and Human Perspective

If the most prominent theme in "Lake" is terminal illness, human perspective on the subject is an important companion theme. But the twist in this poem is that the perspective is not that of the person who is ill but of someone who must bear the burden of having a loved one who is ill. That is, the "you" whose thoughts and actions dominate the work is not sick. Rather, it is an ambiguous figure who is dying and who is portrayed only in the brief, vague terms of sitting on the shore with a blank stare on his or her face.

Warren explores this theme with such grace and subtlety that it is almost unnoticeable on first reading. The poem makes no dramatic announcement about perspective, and it is quite easy to assume that the viewpoint of the sick will be given equal consideration to that of the healthy. But that is not the case. The first word of "Lake" establishes the subject of the work, and in line 6, the speaker makes clear that the illnesses are "not your own." Whose, then, are they?

Not until line 18 is anyone else mentioned and then only as an unknown "those." Note, however, that the "you" is consistently paired with the ambiguous third-person reference: "those you cannot heal," "you reach for them, [you] kiss them on the forehead." Even though the one suffering from illness is now brought into the picture, it is still the perspective of the subject "you" that is important. The heaviness described in the poem is that of the subject, not of the ill person, and it is "you" who bears the weight of loss and sorrow and gloom. The subject is portrayed in detail, both emotionally and physically, and from these descriptions one can both see the subject and feel what he or she is going through. The mountain-and-sea metaphor that rounds out the poem compares a progressing disease to a "slow / degrading shuffle to the sea" while it also indicates the hopeless mindset of the subject who imagines the scene in the first place. That is, line 22 makes it clear that "you knew" that the illness "would continue," and, from the subject's perspective, the end of the loved one's life will be like a lake swallowed up by an immense ocean—an ocean indifferent to grief, as it manages only a "yawn."

Style

Contemporary Free Verse

In the late nineteenth century, French poets such as Arthur Rimbaud and Jules Laforgue started a literary revolt against the long-established rules of what makes a poem a poem, which at the time were believed to be strict adherence to specific patterns of rhyme and meter. The vers libre (free verse) movement called for a relaxation of poetic restrictions, allowing the poet to compose in a more natural voice using common language to express familiar themes. Contemporary free verse simply refers to the progression of original free verse in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries toward even fewer restrictions, especially with regard to content and language usage. Contemporary free verse poets do not shy away from subjects that are sexual, violent, or controversial in nature, and descriptions are usually presented in a plain, conversational manner.

Topics For Further Study

  • In the past ten to fifteen years, several notable people have announced that they have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Present to your class the reason(s) that you believe famous people make their diagnoses public and what effect the disclosure has on other people with Alzheimer's, on medical professionals who research and treat the disease, and on American society in general. Invite classmates to offer their own opinions as well.
  • Warren is noted for her allusions to figures from Greek and Roman mythology as well as to actual writers and artists from the ancient world. Write an essay on why she might find these metaphorical references so attractive, and give your opinion on whether they strengthen or weaken her otherwise contemporary style and themes.
  • Write a personal essay on where you might turn for comfort or for a momentary distraction from stress and sorrow if a loved one in your life were diagnosed with an incurable disease. Would it be an actual place, another person, a hobby, or any one thing in particular?
  • Write a poem in which line breaks play as important a role as the subject or theme. Then write a brief synopsis of the process. Is it difficult to place such emphasis on line breaks? Does the construction itself get in the way of just saying what you want to say? Explain why or why not.

Metaphor and Allusion

In "Lake," the language is predominantly straightforward and unadorned, with a splash of metaphor here and there to add intrigue. For instance, there is a lengthy description of the subject standing in waist-high water and then coming to shore to dry off the "cranky shoulder, cramping heel tendons, [and] bad knees." These solely physical aspects are set against a more highbrow and obscure allusion to "ancient statues of Dionysus" as well as to the highly imagistic metaphor that concludes the poem. Adding allusions to creative works is an effective way to make an idea or description more easily understood by referencing something familiar. At the end of the poem, for instance, Warren alludes to the actual shifting of earth's continental plates and the resulting degradation of land and water to describe how disease "shifts" human bodies and minds and ultimately "degrades" them. Regardless of the content, however, the language is primarily simple and conversational, with no rhyme or metrical patterns.

Line Breaks and Margins

The most noticeable aspect of this poem's construction begins with line 9 and runs through to the finish at line 26. In typical poems, the second part of a line break is indented with one tab, or a few letter spaces, from the left margin. The first and second parts are often considered one line that is simply too long to fit in the allowed page width. But here the indents are wide enough to push the second parts of line breaks to the right margin of the page, not only making them stand out but also warranting their consideration as separate lines instead of continuations of previous lines. The effect is beneficial. It serves to call attention to important ironies and concepts in the work. For example, the phrase "bad knees" leads directly—and surprisingly—into "bad / dreams"; "would remain" drops immediately into "unhealed." Lines 25 and 26 are both very short and produce their own interesting effect on the page. The phrase "lake was swallowed," set against the right margin, flows into "in earth's gasp, ocean's yawn," set against the left margin. Visually, the lines appear with a clear gap between them, creating their own "yawn" on the page.

Historical Context

Dementia

Warren does not specify any year or even a decade in which "Lake" takes place, nor is any particular region or state identified. The place is insignificant, but readers may make a careful, and educated, assumption about the time period. This poem is probably inspired by the author's awareness of her mother's deteriorating mental faculties due to dementia, which some critical accounts suggest accompanied the despondency and melancholy that Eleanor Clark sank into after Robert Penn Warren's death in 1989. Clark died in 1996. Given these facts and suggestions, it is safe to consider the time frame for "Lake" as the early to mid-1990s; its composition time may be the same or a few years later.

By the end of the twentieth century, great strides had been made in studying various types of dementia, particularly Alzheimer's after the former president Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with the disease in 1994. Ironically, the increased number of older people suffering from these mental ailments is commonly credited to the fact that humans are living longer. In general, dementia is a progressive brain dysfunction that leads to an increasing restriction of daily activities. A slow destruction of nerve cells in the brain causes the victim to lose the ability to function normally and to communicate thoughts and feelings effectively. Typical symptoms include forgetfulness, difficulties performing familiar activities, language problems, impaired judgment, and problems with abstract thinking.

Although data on the frequency of dementia have been more closely studied in recent years, there is no indication that the illness occurs any more or less often than in the past, when not as much attention was afforded it. In general, statistics show that its frequency increases with age, with about 2 percent of people age sixty-five to seventy suffering from it, 5 percent of those age seventy-five to eighty, and 20 percent of those age eighty-five to ninety. Nearly one in three persons over the age of ninety is a victim.

In the 1990s and into the early twenty-first century, treatment for the various types of dementia included a combination of physical, emotional, and mental activities. Thinking and memory training as well as physical therapy and anti-dementia or other types of drugs combine to help slow down the progression of this mentally debilitating disease. As yet, there is no cure. Warren's acknowledgment of this unfortunate fact is made clear in her declaration that "those you cannot heal would remain / unhealed."

Tsunamis

It is perhaps apt to mention the startling coincidence of the metaphor that concludes "Lake" and the devastating natural disaster that happened fourteen months after Departure was published. Warren ends the work with "until continental plates shifted in their sleep, and this whole / lake was swallowed / in earth's gasp, ocean's yawn." These lines describe poetically, and nearly perfectly, the natural phenomenon known as a tsunami.

Obviously, Warren was not making geological predictions and had no idea of what was to come the following year, but anyone reading this poem today may be ominously reminded of the terrible event that struck on December 26, 2004. On this date, the biggest earthquake in forty years occurred between the Australian and Eurasian plates in the Indian Ocean. The quake caused the seafloor to rupture along the fault line, triggering a tsunami that spread thousands of miles over a seven-hour period. A tsunami is not actually a single wave, but a series of waves that can travel across the ocean at speeds of more than five hundred miles an hour. In the deep ocean, hundreds of miles can separate wave crests. As a tsunami enters the shallows of coastlines in its path, its velocity slows, but its height increases. A tsunami that is just a few feet or yards high from trough to crest can suddenly rise to heights of over a hundred and fifty feet as it hits the shore, destroying land, buildings, and, of course, life.

The December 26 tsunami originated in the Indian Ocean just north of Simeulue Island, off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. The resulting wave destroyed shorelines along Indonesia, Sri Lanka, South India, Thailand, the east coast of Africa, and other countries. The death toll in early 2005 stood at over 283,000 people, but with more bodies still being discovered on a daily basis—and given that many of those who were swept out to sea will never be found—an accurate figure on loss of life may never be known. This tragedy has left survivors who know all too well what it is like to be "swallowed / in earth's gasp, ocean's yawn."

Critical Overview

The overall critical response to Warren's poetry—and to Departure, in particular—has been mixed. Critics seem to want to praise her work (and many do), but many cannot defer from registering a common complaint: she is too academic. Still, Warren's four poetry collections have been generally well received, despite a few jibes scattered throughout the reviews.

In his column for Poetry magazine, the poet and critic David Orr points out that Departure is obviously the work of someone well versed in both classical literature and art. He notes that readers are subjected to a string of allusions, such as to "the Iliad, the Aeneid, Wilfred Owen, Georg Trakl," and more than half dozen others. Orr takes a humorous shot at Warren, saying, "So if you're looking for poems about corn dogs and the J. Geils Band, get ready for disappointment." Orr continues with an offhanded compliment, however, noting that "most of the work in Departure takes up the volatile subjects of love and death (particularly the death of the poet's mother), with the former pieces generally being more successful than the latter."

The reviewer Judy Clarence, writing for Library Journal, notes, as Orr did, that the obscure allusions in some of the poems may make the poems "inaccessible" to some readers, but she also calls Warren "one of today's outstanding American poets" and describes the poems in Departure as "thoroughly grounded and stunningly written explorations of death, the passage of time, loss, and impermanence." Echoing this praise, a book critic for Publishers Weekly describes the poems as "long and masterfully elaborate sentences and unrhymed stanzas" and includes "Lake" among the poems that "display insight and hidden discipline."

Criticism

Pamela Steed Hill

Hill is the author of a poetry collection, has published widely in literary journals, and is an editor for a university publications department. In the following essay, she examines the poem's reference to Dionysus as an odd, yet poignant allusion in a work that offers no obvious reason for its inclusion.

On its own, "Lake" is an obscure poem in regard to defining its persona and the relationship between the speaker and subject or the subject and the mysterious "they." But when the poem is considered among the others in Departure, readers can make intelligent guesses about its source of inspiration—the poet is the speaker, the speaker is the subject, and the "they" is the speaker's ailing mother suffering from incurable dementia. Or are they?

In the end, the truth about specific identities makes little difference. What is noteworthy, however, is the intriguing one-time allusion to Dionysus, a famous Greek god, that seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with the subject, tone, theme, and style of the poem.

"Lake" is undoubtedly a work about the desperation, grief, and final resignation of someone dealing with the pending death of a loved one. Twenty-four of its twenty-six lines are dedicated to the description of the subject's futile attempt to escape pain—both emotional and physical—and the mournful acknowledgment that reaching out, touching, and kissing the one who is ill will not save him or her from a "slow, / degrading shuffle to the sea."

But then there are lines 2 and 3. Like the well-known "sore thumb," these two lines stand out with their strange and sudden departure from the seemingly straightforward running motif of the poem. What is the point of this quirky allusion? Why is it mentioned only once? To make sense of this imagery from mythology that appears early on in "Lake," readers need to understand who Dionysus is and what possible connection he may have to a poem about sorrow, death, and desperate longing.

Most commonly, Dionysus—and his Roman counterpart, Bacchus—is known as the god of wine, but that is only the beginning. A supreme being whose claim to fame is a popular drink must have some "baggage" to rule over as well. For Dionysus, it is all the associations, both good and bad, that come along with being drunk—from giddy happiness, relaxation, and sexual arousal to anger, depression, self-doubt, and violence. Dionysus is the god of all these.

What many abbreviated accounts of Dionysus's role in mythology fail to mention is that he is also noted as the archetype of dying and resurrecting in the Greek world. Even though there are a variety of scenarios detailing his birth and early life, one common thread that runs among them is that Dionysus "dies" several times or is transformed into a different being, such as a snake or other animal. Each time, however, he returns to life, a vital and powerful god.

What Do I Read Next?

  • In a Boston Review article (Vol. 29, October–-November 2004) titled "Not Your Father's Formalism," the critic Rafael Campo offers interesting commentary on contemporary poets writing in formal verse. Campo contends that poets like Warren are not quite as strict as the formalists of long ago, but neither are they as loose as many contemporary experimental writers. Campo addresses Warren's Departure as well as new volumes by Marilyn Hacker and Mimi Khalvati.
  • When Warren's mother, Eleanor Clark, was diagnosed with macular degeneration, she reacted with shock and despair. But she also used her permanently impaired eyesight as inspiration for Eyes, etc.: A Memoir (1977). Clark's near-blindness and later decline into dementia were the source for several poems in Departure, and this autobiographical book by Clark is a stirring account of the brave and determined battles she waged in later life.
  • Deborah Digges, a poet and a contemporary of Warren, recently published Trapeze (2004). Her work is similar to Warren's in style and in substance—highbrow at times but also somber in addressing familiar themes. In this volume, several poems focus on loved ones who are dealing with loss and death, while others describe the rural New England landscape, with its woods, gardens, and barns.
  • Margaret Lay-Dopyera offers a sometimes sad, sometimes funny, always intense account of what it is like to live with parents suffering from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases in Until the Trees Are Bare: Losing One's Parents to Dementia (2002). Like Warren, Lay-Dopyera experienced firsthand the heartbreak, anguish, and exasperation of watching a parent (both, in Lay-Dopyera's case) lose the capacity to think, reason, and remember.

Many scholarly studies in Greek mythology concentrate more on this "dying and renewing" aspect of Dionysus than on his noted drinking and reveling. And it is likely this same aspect that underlies Warren's inclusion of an allusion to the motley god in "Lake." Themes of illness and death are evident in the poem, but "the pilot light / [that] flickers in ancient statues of Dionysus" adds a subtle, yet important dimension to the subject's and/or speaker's demeanor regarding the loss of a loved one.

For the first half of "Lake," the "you" is portrayed in water, and there is a clear desire for what he or she would like the water to do: "rinse away the heaviness" that weighs on the subject's mind. But the speaker has already likened the subject to Dionysus, with the "green light" shining off "your hip hollows and stomach" like the pilot light in statues of the ancient god. This comparison implies that "you" is also going through a process of dying and resurrecting. While the subject is not the one who is ill, the grief that he or she experiences is a kind of death—a killing of the spirit, so to speak. But if the subject is like Dionysus, a rebirth or renewal will follow the demise.

Does this, then, suggest that the poem is not as bleak or pessimistic as a less-detailed reading would imply? Is there actually something positive about the speaker's or subject's approach to such a difficult time? Not likely. Logistics alone indicate otherwise, with the reference to Dionysus being extremely brief and the clear statement on "how soon and how lightly that touch / would be withdrawn" closing the door on any hope for recovery. And if this line closes the door, the poem's ending nails it shut.

After the subject emerges from the water, "Lake" takes a downward spiral to the bottom of hopelessness and resignation. The speaker's statements about what the subject accepts as reality are straightforward and unyielding: "you knew, too, how those you cannot heal would remain / un-healed," "you knew the mountains would continue their slow, / degrading shuffle to the sea." The subject does not merely believe—the subject knows.

The only thing left to ponder, then, is whether this doleful abandonment applies across the board for the subject—that is, regarding the sick loved one, as well as him- or herself and life in general—or if the Dionysus allusion suggests the possibility of renewal, at least for the "you." Since Warren is noted for (or accused of, in some cases) being a bit erudite and inaccessible in her poetry, it may stand to reason that this cryptic, short-lived reference to a Greek god is included simply as a brainteaser. Its brevity makes it easy to dismiss as mere poetic fluff, but it is unlikely that a highly academic, cultivated poet like Warren would throw something in as fluff. A brainteaser is another matter.

Anyone who knows a bit of biographical information about Warrren knows that she is well versed in the classics, that she has years of experience studying and living in Europe, and that her work does not shy away from grandiose allusions—from classical writers and mythology to French poets and Italian painters. Whether readers actually appreciate the effort is sometimes doubtful, but it is safe to assume that Warren's intent is sincere. In "Lake," Dionysus must serve a purpose. For those who read the poem seriously and carefully, he definitely causes readers to stop and think.

The contention here is that that is his purpose. Readers not at all familiar with Dionysus have quite a bit of research to do, but even those who can readily name him as the god of wine and good times must be puzzled by his presence in a poem whose subject and tone are just the opposite. The reader is forced to delve a little deeper into the "pilot light" metaphor and ask what it has to do with Dionysus and what Dionysus has to do with a person standing in a lake trying to escape the emotional turmoil of depression, grief, and death. Finding the answer may not be easy, but then the brain would not get much of a workout if it were.

In the end, the allusion to Dionysus has no bearing on the overall meaning and subject of the poem. Read it through and simply omit the phrase "which is where the pilot light / flickers in ancient statues of Dionysus." The meaning does not change, nor does the tone or any of the themes. Even the syntax remains coherent. The inclusion of this reference, then, is arbitrary, but it is there nonetheless. Maybe it signifies that the subject will "live again" after the loved one is gone or maybe it even implies that the sick will be resurrected in one form or another, but neither of these possibilities is certain. What is certain is that an odd allusion usually generates curiosity and curiosity makes people think. If for no other reason, the poet is probably satisfied with that.

Source: Pamela Steed Hill, Critical Essay on "Lake," in Poetry for Students, Thomson Gale, 2006.

Neil Heims

Heims is a writer and teacher working in Paris. In this essay, he argues that the poet's perception and the world she perceives determine each other and that the poem derives its energy from this interaction.

Whatever else it may be, a poem is an act of transformation. By means of a poem, a poet's consciousness and experience become part of the world, and parts of the world become aspects of the poet's consciousness and experience. This dizzying interchange, this delicate interaction, creates the potential stored in the poem, which is released as the energy of poetry when the poem is read or recited.

Words turn into things, and things turn into words. The tangible objects of the world represent the intangible sensations—thoughts and feelings—of the poet, and the intangible sensations of the poet—those thoughts and feelings—render the tangible objects of the world meaningful and even symbolic, that is, representative of things they commonly, in themselves, are not. The process of poetic transformation activates the essential process of connection that joins together the person and the world in an unstrained unity, even in the face of the great terrors of nature, such as passion, catastrophe, and mortality, which threaten continuously to overwhelm us with their unrelenting power.

A connection as fundamental as the connection between any person and the world is the connection that we have to ourselves. It is a connection that is continually broken and repaired by consciousness. Because of consciousness, each of us is divided into our own subject perceiving ourselves (and even perceiving ourselves perceiving) and our own object perceived. Yet it is through this split, through conscious perception, that we know ourselves, become whole, and know the world in which we find ourselves.

Rosanna Warren's poem "Lake" is a meditation, a wide-awake, trancelike contemplation of her own experience of herself through her experience of nature. She stands momentarily at a still center of a world that is anything but still. In "Lake" the poet—divided between the speaker and the "you" to whom she speaks—encounters her own painful, apparently incurable anguish, and her own division, in her several sorts of encounters. The poem describes an encounter with nature: "You stood thigh-deep in water." Warren gives her thoughts about nature and about culture ("ancient statues of Dionysus"), her own burdens ("the heaviness of your own seasons / and of illnesses not your own"), and the relation between herself and nature as that relationship is formed by her consciousness of nature, by her personification of it ("it [the lake water] lapped against your waist, / it took you in its arms").

In the poem Warren transforms the simple act of slowly stepping into a lake into an encounter with what the Greeks would call her moira, meaning her portion, the substance and the conditions of her life, including those aspects of being and feeling (with regard to the contents of her life) that define and delineate her.

Fire and water meet and represent the two forces that encounter each other in the first two lines of the poem—the glancing comfort of the reflection of the lapping water and the flickering frenzy of Dionysian fire. The poet feels the power that both exercise upon her as she steps into the lake, "thigh-deep in water." The lake water that embraces her up to the thighs as she enters it reflects itself as glancing "green light" on her "hip hollows and stomach" and introduces us to the first moment of transformation, which is accomplished by means of the process of mental association. The glancing light of the water becomes a flickering Dionysian fire, a disturbing frenzy beyond our rational control, as a natural event reminds her of how the ancient Greeks represented the power of one of their gods in a work of art. The part of her body that is illuminated is "where the pilot light / flickers in ancient statues of Dionysus." The soothing, but fleeting caress of water and the unsteadiness of passionate energy encounter each other in the image. Flame and water meet at the center of her body and the center of her consciousness. Torment and comfort approach each other in the struggle between what is real and what is desired.

In this encounter, we begin to learn the situation of the poet. Trouble burns inside her. She hopes for something soothing from without, from outside herself. She catalogues her pain: "the heaviness / of your own seasons and of illnesses not your own," "the weights and measures, pulses, aches and scars you / know by heart, / the cranky shoulder, cramping heel tendons, bad knees, bad / dreams." Against this trouble, she personifies the water as a consoling lover, a tender comforter with the power to "rinse away the heaviness." But the water's "caress" is "cool and faithless." It is not enduring: "it lapped against your waist, / it took you in its arms," but "how lightly that touch / would be withdrawn." This touch of this water will not extinguish that Dionysian fire piloting the poet's anguish. In consequence, when "it [the water] took you in its arms . . . you gave yourself, a little, / only a little, knowing how soon and how lightly that touch / would be withdrawn."

From the fluid medium of short-lived solace, the poet returns to the firmer territory of her own life, "standing again on the rootwebbed / shore." The shore is solid ground, not flowing and disappearing, but it is "rootwebbed." Her trouble is the ground under her feet, the history upon which she stands, and by means of it she identifies herself. This, her real condition, is her problem and her solace. It is more permanently solacing in her acceptance of it—this tangled foundation of what is, that which supports and grounds her—than the fleeting caresses of water. Warren expresses its power through the economy that is peculiar and particular to successful poetry, in this case, by the single placement of a word that by that placement carries two meanings, which contradict each other and therefore coexist.

The word "restored," which ends the line "how soon you would be standing again on the rootwebbed / shore, drying, restored" if the line is read end-stopped, that is, if the reader pauses at the end of the line, takes on a positive character. It suggests being brought back to life, being brought up to capacity, being "restored," becoming whole, an intransitive quality of the thing itself, something about the poet. But even though the line ends with that word and therefore permits us to stop momentarily as we read, there is no punctuation, and we must continue and let the sense slide over the side of the line into the next line, a poetic device called "enjambment." This is what we get: "how soon you would be standing again on the rootwebbed / shore, drying, restored / to the weights and measures, pulses, aches and scars you know by heart." The glancing possibility of comfort slips away like water to be replaced by the solidities of "weights and measures, pulses, aches and scars." She is not her own but is given over, "restored," to the actualities of her life.

The simultaneous representation of opposite realities achieved by the contrasting meanings united in the word "restored" governs the tone of the rest of the poem, which, although it is full of anguish, even despair, and death violence, has a mournful tone of calm acceptance. The content is grim. Warren speaks of "how those you cannot heal would remain / unhealed / though you reach for them, kiss them on the forehead, and / they stare back out of the drift." Here is a tender presentation of caretaking, but the caretaking brings neither solace nor connection. Rather than a last or a lasting communion with a departing beloved, such attentions signify hopelessness. The poet realizes the inevitability of pure death, of departure itself.

But the poet pictures death only as the plight of matter. "Lake," which begins with the poet's conscious confrontation with energy, with the lapping of water and the flickering of fire, concludes with images of heavy and decaying lifeless matter: "the mountains would continue their slow, / degrading shuffle to the sea / until continental plates shifted in their sleep." The end of what is tangible is slow, monumental, cataclysmic, indifferent, and eerily peaceful. The gently erotic and short-lived consolation of lapping water that figures in the first lines of the poem is transformed into the strange solace of an overwhelming and all-encompassing flood in the last lines.

What remains after matter's destruction is the energy into which it has returned, which has consumed it: "this whole / lake was swallowed / in earth's gasp, ocean's yawn." And these overwhelming forces, "earth's gasp, ocean's yawn," are encompassed in the poet's consciousness and expressed in her words through the transformations accomplished by her art, which puts them under her poetic sovereignty, inside the domain of her poem, subject to her imagination for their existence. Source: Neil Heims, Critical Essay on "Lake," in Poetry for Students, Thomson Gale, 2006.

William Logan

In the following review excerpt, Logan asserts that Warren "does what a lot of other poets do, often a little better, sometimes a little worse."

Rosanna Warren has a warm, classical sensibility (if she has a chip on her shoulder, it's a chip of Greek marble), and some of her poems are an atlas of Greek temples, a phone book of Greek gods. Though Departure is her fourth book, her imagination is not highly distinctive—she does what a lot of other poets do, often a little better, sometimes a little worse. There's a poem contemplating a Hellenistic head, poems about her dying mother, poems about gardening or a story by Colette or a landscape seen from a plane, even a poem that almost makes Boston a classical ruin (in a book that invokes the Iliad, it's amusing to come across the lines "By beer bottles, over smeared / Trojans").

Warren has the disadvantage of being the daughter of two once well-known writers—when she mentions her father, it's hard not to think, "But that's Robert Penn Warren." When her mother is ill, you're tempted to cry, "But of course. Eleanor Clark." Warren never drops names, but then she doesn't have to. The children of writers must be aware that in their work biography intrudes more dramatically than for poets whose parents are anonymous.

The poems about her mother's last years ought to be among the most appealing; yet, however carefully coddled, however dryly observed, they seem merely dutiful. Not dutiful toward her mother—dutiful toward poetry.

Your purpled, parchment forearm 
lodges an IV needle and valve;
your chest sprouts EKG wires;
your counts and pulses swarm
in tendrils over your head
on a gemmed screen; oxygen,
heart rate, lung power, temp
root you to the bed—
Magna Mater, querulous, frail,
turned numerological vine....

With that sudden nod toward grandiloquence, all the heart seeps out of the poem. The description is good as such descriptions are, but with nothing stirring in the phrases—it's life worked up into art; yet, while the strangeness of life has gone, the intensity of art has not arrived.

The most curious work here is a series of translations from the notebooks of a young French poet, Anne Verveine, who disappeared while hitchhiking in Uzbekistan. The poems themselves are stale and unprofitable—they seem, like so many translations, just the translator wearing a different suit of clothes. At times the Frenchwoman sounds more like Warren than Warren. This would be unre-markable, if Verveine were not completely imaginary. Having admitted as much in the notes, Warren oddly tricks her out with a dry biography ("She lived obscurely in Paris, avoiding literary society and working as a typographer") and then smartly packs her off to her death.

It's hard to know what to make of this convoluted business. W. D. Snodgrass published a book of poems under the pseudonym S. S. Gardons (a cheerful anagram), making his alter ego a gas-station attendant. The British poet Christopher Reid, twenty years ago, published translations of an imaginary Eastern European poet named Kate-rina Brac—some readers were convinced she was real. In recent decades, there have been examples enough of literary imposture, authors winning awards by impersonating an Australian aborigine or a Jew who survived the Holocaust. Warren's "translations" give no special insight into Paris or the lives of young women. It's strange to have gone to so much trouble.

In her own poems, Warren uses all the right devices—similes, metaphors, allusions, lists—in a slightly mechanical way. Her favorite method of construction is a violent turn or peripeteia, but such swervings often seem nervousness, not nerve. What salvages this book of intelligent, well-meaning poems, most of them conventional as cottage cheese, are one or two that rise from some dark source even the poet seems unsure about:

For six days, full-throated, they praised 
the light with speckled tongues and blare
of silence by the porch stair:
honor guard with blazons and trumpets raised
still heralding the steps of those
who have not for years walked here
but who once, pausing, chose
this slope for a throng of lilies: 
and hacked with mattock, pitching stones
and clods aside to tamp dense
clumps of bog-soil for new roots to seize.
So lilies tongued the brassy air.

This has the intensity missing elsewhere—the densities required by rhyme seem partly responsible. Whatever ritual the poet incanted, however she prepared for description so coolly rehearsed and a transcendence effortlessly reached some lines later, she ought to do it again and again.

Source: William Logan, "Out on the Lawn," in New Criterion, December 2003, pp. 85–87.

Sources

Clarence, Judy, Review of Departure, in Library Journal, Vol. 128, No. 16, October 1, 2003, p. 80.

Orr, David, "Eight Takes," in Poetry, Vol. 184, No. 4, August 2004, pp. 305–16.

Review of Departure, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 250, No. 43, October 27, 2003, pp. 60–61.

Warren, Rosanna, Departure, W. W. Norton, 2003, p. 111.

Further Reading

Clark, Eleanor, The Oysters of Locmariaquer, 1965, reprint, Ecco Press, 1998.

This travelogue earned Warren's mother, Eleanor Clark, a National Book Award in 1965. It explores life in the town of Locmariaquer in Brittany, a region in southern France where Warren spent part of her childhood. Clark focuses on the lives of the people who cultivate the famous Belon oysters that come from this region as well as the history of the area.

Simic, Charles, "Difference in Similarity," in New York Review of Books, Vol. 51, No. 4, March 11, 2004, pp. 21–23.

In this review, the poet and critic Simic addresses the wide variety of style and content found in contemporary American poetry. Claiming "it is no longer easy to stick labels on poets," he focuses on three new collections in particular, including Departure.

Warren, Robert Penn, The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren, Louisiana State University Press, 1998.

This lengthy, comprehensive collection of Warren's father's poetry, edited by John Burt, is worth perusing, even if readers do not make it through all 800-plus pages. Robert Penn Warren's influence on his daughter's writing is unmistakable, and many poems in this collection give evidence of that.

Warren, Rosanna, Stained Glass, W. W. Norton, 1993.

Stained Glass is Warren's most acclaimed volume of poetry to date, and it is interesting to compare its poems to those in Departure, published ten years later. Stained Glass won the Lamont Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

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