The title itself hints at the greater meaning of the poem. An “unforced error” is a sports term, defined as a mistake made solely by the player and not caused by an opponent. It’s often just bad luck, a small error, or “happenstance” (line 18). The poem’s first word, “Once” (1), followed by a colon, signifies an event of the past and prepares the reader for a distant event and possibly for nostalgia. The first several lines show a lazy, relaxed summer day, depicting youth living carefree with little money and even less worry. In line four, however, we are introduced to a darker concept: the sudden appearance of very old age. How many people under the age of 70 “play bingo outside the church” (4) in their free time? We are subtly yet crucially jolted into a world of old age and sickness, of per...
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...og and begun to lose her sense of self and individuality. To this day, her autoimmune disease occasionally cycles her back into the turmoil of intense pain. O’Rourke recognizes and accepts the permanence of her sickness, but still seems to look back nostalgically at certain memories. Her experience gives all the more reason to wish she had adequately cherished her youth and health—a point we only question because of the poem’s “I made a mistake” in line 15. Yet her illness was a happenstance, just as an athlete may win or lose a match by a personal error or by chance, like a curtain blown in the wind. Thinking back to the speaker’s line describing our “marrowful” bones (10), they may be rich with marrow, yet we may not still be alive. Ultimately, “Unforced Error” begs us to consider what we can cherish and control, accepting that in life there is so much we cannot.
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