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Then we see the main character, who brings home the point of the whole piece with that one, great, blockbuster line:
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
...with its follow-up, added later:
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Open-ended questions are usually a bad thing in poetry, but here the answer is so obvious that it just reinforces the theme.
All the lonely people
By now it occurs to us that to some extent we all are lonely people like Eleanor Rigby. Our heart goes out to her, cleaning up after other peoples' joyous occasions. “Why can’t we have more joy in our lives?” we ask. “Why is loneliness a factor for anyone? Do the lonely people make themselves or is their loneliness part of the way things are set up in this crazy world?”
While we are lost in this reverie, the poem leads us to the second person in the story, the twister, the character who makes it all a great deal more subtle, and universal. It seems the whole church is inhabited by the ghosts of lonely people.
Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear
Indeed, what does he care about Eleanor Rigby’s loneliness when he has his own problems? I think it was John Lennon who got the Fab Four into such hot water in 1966 when he said to a London Evening Standard reporter, “We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.”
There always was a kind of anti-Christian slant to the Beatles lyrics which was not lost on the faithful who came out in droves to oppose them wherever they appeared. The lyrics of Eleanor Rigby did nothing to abate their fury. Ultimately, it’s what makes the poem edgy, dangerous, and relevant. It exposes a soft edge of life, one we prefer to hide most of the time. Even the church that is supposed to soften the edges around the hard realities of life exists in a hard world itself where socks need darning. Even priests get lonely. Here the song is doing exactly what all good poetry is supposed to do, stretch the limits.
So now we come to the third leg of the stool that ties the two characters together and completes the circle that the other stanzas were drawing out for us:
Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Eleanor Rigby is ultimately structured like a three legged stool. In his commentary, McCartney takes us through the first two parts, but obviously this last stanza was needed to tie everything together. In fact, this last stanza offers the only way the song could properly end. It has to go back to the church and the lonely ones:
All the lonely people
Lennon and McCartney may have just been writing a song, but in McCartney’s explanation of how this lyric was written he has revealed methods used by all poets. In so doing he reinforces, if reinforcement was ever needed, the notion that The Beatles were true poets, as well as the greatest songsters of our era.
©2010 by Gary Lehmann
Gary Lehmann’s poetry has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His poem “Reporting from Fallujah” was nominated for 2006, and “First in Flight” has been nominated for 2007. He is co-author and editor of a book of poetry entitled The Span I Will Cross [Process Press, 2004]. Public Lives and Private Secrets was published by Foothills Press in 2005. His book American Sponsored Torture [FootHills Publishing] was released in May 2007. His essays, poetry and short stories are widely published—over 100 pieces per year. For more information see his Web site.
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