A Conflagration by J. Scott Brownlee

For my final blog post I have decided to annotate J. Scott Brownlee’s poem “A Conflagration” because the poem carries so much emotion and depth. I will be comparing this poem to an oil painting done by Albert Bierstadt that is also called “A Conflagration.” When I found this painting I was shocked at how two things that are completely different can relate so flawlessly.

The Conflagration

Brownlee’s poem begins with “my father’s heart burns a pillar of fire,” and these two lines set the depressing, flaming tone for the majority of the poem. The poem is a large metaphor that is comparing the narrator’s heart to a conflagration. This is a sign that the father has a medical problem with his heart that is “the size of an oak tree.” Having the ability to view the painting while reading this poem allows the reader to understand the flames and the true destruction that a fire can cause. Brownlee is proving his point that his father’s heart is going to ruins and spreading quickly just like a fire; which brings me to the conclusion that his father could possibly have cancer.

The narrator adds a complex emotional tone when stating that he is “helpless against the procession of it.” A son never wants to feel helpless when it comes to his father’s health, but he is helpless to the moving of his father’s illness much like humans are helpless to the moving of a conflagration. Brownlee continues to say that he is helpless to the rapid moving of it “through his chest into mine-” which could mean multiple things. I took this line to mean that because his father’s chest is being destroyed the son’s chest is going to ruins from heartbreak. This relates back to the painting because there could be multiple buildings that are destroyed from the fire in the picture just like multiple hearts are being destroyed.

Within the third stanza Brownlee uses personification to say that his chest is “blind.” His chest could be blind because it does not fully comprehend exactly what is happening. In line 12 the narrator says that disease is symptom-less and blind before “igniting” just like a fire is not there before bursting into flames.

I love how Brownlee mentions that “love isn’t helpless” because he loves his father and knows that with love anything is possible. He then makes a reference to Heaven in the following two lines when he says that the “flames’ height insures he will be consecrated” because Heaven is known to be high in the sky and to be consecrated is to be dedicated formally for religious purposes. I admire how this relates to the painting because beside the flames there is a blue sky and white puffy clouds as a sign of hope.

The end of the poem concludes with his father not being able to speak with “tubes that root through him.” His voice is described as coming out as “fire.” This line will leave one speechless. A voice that comes out as fire represents that it comes out uncontrollably or that the fire from his heart is spreading all through his body and coming out of his mouth. It is beautiful that the poet connects the “heart” in the first line to the “fire” in the final line because it is the metaphor that makes up the whole poem.