A TOUCH OF THE POET by Eugene O’Neill

On the surface, this may seem atypical of O’Neill’s later works with its historical setting and detailed plot. Look a little closer, however and A Touch of the Poet reveals itself as fully in line with the themes of O’Neill focused on in his final plays. Actually, this was the play that really made me realize what those themes are. They all revolve around the defeat of tragedy. Not that O’Neill’s last plays, this one included, aren’t sad and pessimistic. Of course they are. However, through them, O’Neill glimpses and shows us the path to hope. Obviously, that path is pretty unpleasant. It involves sacrificing dreams, accepting failure and admitting that neither the face you show other people nor the face you see in the mirror will ever be quite what you want. Still, if you can find your way through these agonies, O’Neill demonstrates there might just be something not too bad on the other side.  A Touch of the Poet makes this so clear it almost functions as a key to O’Neill’s final philosophy. Doesn’t hurt that it’s also a theatrical masterpiece of the highest order with a tremendously memorable and haunting central character. Don’t write this off, as I did for too long, as the “other” late O’Neill play. It is as good as any of them and illuminating to boot. 


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