"Consolation Comes Late" is one of Alter Esselin's many attempts to confront his own emotional turmoil, and is characteristically self-mocking. He starts out by pointing out the ephemeral, illusory benefit he derives from composing poetry, but insists that he cannot use any other means of achieving a semblance of serenity since the supposed comfort of conventional forms of consolation is not available to him. Life after death, resurrection, etc. does not for him provide consolation of his anguish. And to compound his self mockery, he uses the conceit of the neighbor's captive penguin "so much like me in my own cage" and even though the owner demands that the penguin sing "it cannot sing, never could." Esselin clearly wants us to see him as a kind of imprisoned penguin (so many have pointed out that penguins look like men dressed in formal evening wear). But it is only suggested in the poem that Esselin has entrapped himself, and the demand that he sing comes from himself. The irony of course is that the poet believes that the consolation he sought was there all along but he was oblivious to its availability. It was there all along and when he found it, it was too late for him to use.
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