Poems have plots. A poem happens in time: sometimes with an explicit, actual story and sometimes as the more implicit story of a feeling as it unfolds.
For example, here is Shakespeare's sonnet 129. The feeling begins with a frantic need to control sexual passion and ends with something closer to resignation:
Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action, and till action lust
Is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme,
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe,
Before, a joy proposed, behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows, yet none knows well
To shun the heav'n that leads men to this hell.
The opening words are a strained, memorably over-emphatic assertion. After that assertion comes a list of negative attributes, with somewhat comical anticlimaxes within the list, descending from the fierce "extreme" and "murderous" to the tamer generalities "full of blame" and "not to trust."
Then the poem presents more controlled-sounding, logical summaries of lust's course. These increasingly compact statements become more and more like neat aphorisms or slogans: "Before, a joy proposed, behind, a dream." Finally, the last two lines are a kind of candid sigh; the poem concedes the undeniable power of what it has tried to denounce and renounce. The basic argument doesn't change -- sexual desire is a fearsome problem, it says at every point -- but the feeling about that notion turns, changes and nearly reverses.
A similar process animates Rachel Hadas's poem "The Gates," from her recent book Laws. Her list of adjectives recalls Shakespeare's poem and may even intentionally echo Shakespeare. A deeper resemblance is how, like Sonnet 129, "The Gates" gets to somewhere different from where it begins:
No wonder we so love the dead. The living
are brittle, easily wounded,
petty, distracted by shadows,
ungrateful, obsessive, persistent,
needy, greedy, vain,
impulsive, wrapped in day's opacity.
Better at resisting
wishes, the dead are patient,
Having skipped the jaws of appetite
as blithely as the pilot
who slipped the bonds of earth,
they glide across the hours.
But that I see the dead
in peaceful places, in unhurried silence
doesn't mean they're never
hammering at the gates.
The hinge of Hadas's plot turns on "But that I see." That final hammering transforms the initial, clear distinction between the lovable dead and the problematic living. Hadas creates a powerful sense of the emotional region where all those we care about make their demands, the dead as well as the living. (Rachel Hadas's poem "The Gates" is from her book "Laws." Univ. of Nebraska. Copyright © 2004 by Rachel Hadas.)