Sample Commentary

21 06 2011


by Gary Miranda


What matters more than practice

is the fact that you, my audience,

are pulling for me, want me to pull

it off—this next sleight*. Now

you see it. Something more than

whether I succeed’s at stake.


This talk is called patter. This

is misdirection—how my left

hand shows you nothing’s in it.

Nothing is. I count on your mistake

of caring. In my right hand your

undoing blooms like a cancer.


But I’ve shown you that already—

empty. Most tricks are done

before you think they’ve started—you

who value space more than time.

The balls, the cards, the coins—they go

into the past, not into my pocket.




Miranda, G. Grace period. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


* sleight: as in “sleight-of-hand”, clever use of the hands in order to deceive



IB HL Student’s answer for his/her Paper 2: (as written on the IB official Answer Sheet)


The poem “Magician” is as clever and deft as the tricks it describes. Through the use of concealed metaphor, combined with terse and logical language, Miranda expresses the human desire to hide from the harsh realities of life and conveys to the reader that people cannot turn to ‘magic’ for answer—we must discover them for ourselves.


The title of the poem is frank and self-explanatory—the single word ‘Magician’. There is certainly no magic here—no colorful metaphor or exposition. The title takes on clearer significance, however, once the central messages of the poem become apparent. By the last line, the reader will see the Magician as a powerful, maybe even supernatural figure: this idea is developed through the poem.


The opening line is swaggering, confident—“What matters more than practice/ is the fact that you, my audience…want me to pull it off”. The alliteration of ‘matters more’ and subtle half rhymes of ‘fact’, ‘that’ and ‘practice’, ‘audience’ convey a certain smugness, and the idea that the magician’s act is perfect; the magician’s deceptions are effortless, because the audience want to believe him. Half his work is done.

Lines four and five contain some very adroit phrases—‘next sleight’ is smooth and collected, and the word ‘sleight’ in itself is a clever reference to how the magician’s tricks are “sly”.* A somewhat sinister tone enters the poem in this second half of the first verse: we are told that ‘something more’ is at stake than whether the trick works or not. Miranda is trying to tell the reader that the Magician’s sleight of hand has a wider application. His tricks are a form of escapism for the audience, which is why they are pulling for [him]’; if he succeeds, they can believe in ‘magic’ for a little longer.


* ‘Now you see it’ invites the reader to finish with, “and now you don’t”, but we are cheated out of this expected conclusion.


The second verse is a continuation of this dynamic between the Magician and his audience. The magician, the lyric 1, grows noticably more condescending, because he knows the power he holds over them—he ‘patters’ to his audience: “misdirects’ them—they are his playthings. However, he is honest, at least, in this unspoken narration to his act: ‘My left hand shows you nothing’s in it.’  There is an inversion in the sentence order, and the left hand is personified into a showman in its own right. His words and ‘talk’ are tricky, but his actions aren’t—there really is nothing in his left hand—he holds no answers.*


*Life can also be divided into two, like left and right—one can let themselves) be deceived, or seek the truth.


The magician repeats himself, emphasizing the falsity of his “magic”, yet the lure of power is too great. “[He] counts on your mistake of caring,” and in his right hand, the Magician holds “your undoing”. This harsh consonance of ‘count’ and ‘mistake’ sharpens this idea that falling for cheap tricks and magic is wrong. The ‘mistake of caring’ is an ambiguous phrase, but could relate to the under picture: it is caring that causes us pain in life, that drives us to seek another world where we can escape reality It is human to err, to make ‘mistakes’, but without them, the Magician would lose his supernatural power because his form of escapism wouldn’t be needed.*


* This is why he keeps them hanging on.

The audience’s ‘undoing’  ‘blooms like a cancer.’ This is an ugly and unsettling similie, and again, sharp consonance in ‘ke’ and ‘ca’ pierces the reader. The reader realizes that deceiving oneself can consume us, such is the danger of looking for answers in the wrong places. The likening of caner to a blooming flower betrays a Machiavellian streak in the Magician: He nurtures this cancer and helps it grow.


Line 13 repeats that there is no magic; the dash at the end of the line creates a suspense, but again, our hopes are extinguished with the word ‘empty’: Again, the Magician is condescending and arrogant, and expresses his feelings of superiority with ‘Most tricks are done/ before you think they’ve started—you/ who value space more than time! This interesting accusation gives the poem a context outside of a theatre hall, and outside of the present. The reason people are tricked by cheap magic is because they don’t realize the power the past has to dictate the future. The ‘balls, the cards, the coins’ are trivial items, but they are not safe in the Magician’s ‘pocket’, they are lost to the ‘past’. If one extends this metaphor to the things we hold dear in life, we can understand that it is our actions and the paths we have travelled—right or left—that have brought us to the present. The only way we will find answers or relief to the things that pain us is by accepting that there is ‘nothing’—no magic solutions, no fate, no God.

However, this does not mean that we cannot find solace. If the past dictates the present, then the present can dictate the future. Miranda’s ultimate message is that we must live life with open eyes, with a sense of perspective”. –To wait out for salvation, whether from a Magician or God, is to be fooled; we must rely on ourselves.


The structure of the poem reflects the aesthetic content. It is written in free verse, without rhyme and hence without reason or purpose. The poetry is disguised* half rhymes and repetition of letter are Miranda’s only concession to poetic convention.


*– there is certainly no flamboyance or magic in his language. Miranda’s poetry is sleight—


The sentence structure is curt and frank, some ‘as short as two words: ‘Nothing is.’ This conveys the “matter of fact” attitude of the Magician, and the contempt he feels towards the audience. There is also a lot of pronoun interaction: the poem is full of ‘I’ and ‘you’, ‘my’ and ‘your’; this division into two also demonstrates that there is no third-party—no supernatural element.


Ultimately, it is the absence of poetry in ‘Magician’ that makes its message so effective, and shows the reader that God does not exist. Miranda’s deft and adroit language both exposes human weakness and points to where the real answers can be found.



Olson, L. (ed.) (2010) Asia pacific regional workshops DP English A1 (category 1) workbook. Hongkong: International Baccaulaureate Organization.





15 responses

21 06 2011

A commentary is basically an article that comments on various aspects of a certain piece, such as why certain words were chosen and the reasons for certain types of word play. Also, it tries to delve deeper into the piece and find the meaning the author might’ve wanted to convey to his readers.

21 06 2011

Without officially reading what a commentary is..

I think a commentary is a run-through of each part of a poem, in this case. Instead of giving an organized and structured essay where the idea of one can lead to the next, a commentary tries to jump from one point to another and analyzing that line. As a whole it reflects one main idea, but you would only realize it once you’ve read the whole thing. Each part of the commentary focuses on a line, a word or basically and part of the poem and analyzes how it plays a part in shaping the idea and symbolism of the poem. It doesn’t really follow and 3 part theme of an essay or the like, but rather it tries to bombard you with ideas from almost every aspect of the poem and then ties it together in a way.

21 06 2011

I believe that a commentary is like an essay, but it has a more creative format. It tackles each part of a poem, and gives a deep analysis on each part. Similar to what sushi said, each small analysis is actually part of one main idea which the writer focuses on. Although it has a different format, it still maintains the important parts found in an essay: the introduction, body and conclusion. I also believe that a commentary also shows the voice or opinion of a writer more clearly than an essay since in this commentary, there are a few lines that are standing out which I think is the opinion of the writer.

21 06 2011

A commentary is an opinion of a particular piece, in this case, it expressed some thoughts and explanations to The Magician. I think it requires some analysis of the piece, thought not as orderly as an essay. If I were making a commentary and suddenly an idea comes up, I would probably just write it after the last sentence instead of adjusting the whole thing like when writing essays. Commentaries are much more informal.

21 06 2011

A commentary is a person’s personal view of a piece. It is split into multiple parts, each analyzing a different part of the whole. It could be compared to a dissection of a piece of poetry or literature. It is as the name states, a commenting about the opinion of the reader regarding his/her belief in a hidden meaning of sorts of the piece.

21 06 2011

According to the Mac dictionary, a commentary is a set of explanatory or critical notes on a text. In this example, the student explains lines in Miranda’s poem ‘The Magician’ with his own creative ideas and analysis. A commentary is less formal than an essay, in that you are able to bounce around ideas and topics more freely, and thus have more of an opportunity to delve deeper into the piece than usual. The student here comments, explains the reasons why the author chose certain words, what certain lines mean, etc.

21 06 2011

A commentary is an analysis of a poem. It tackles the poem as a whole, focusing on its persona and message. It then breaks down a poem, explaining everything about each part thoroughly (literary devices, analysis, message, ideas, etc.). For me, it’s can be considered like a Sparknotes to a poem. Commentaries seem to follow a certain format, especially when it comes to tackling certain lines. The idea of a certain line functions as a title to the paragraph that will further expound on it. However, like what Paul said, the intro-body-conclusion format commonly found in essays is still found here.

21 06 2011
Martin Ibasco

I think a commentary is a personal interpretation of a poem. The poem is divided into parts composed of a number of words, which is given meaning by the reader. Each meaning contributes to a whole idea of what the poem’s message is. This method helps in giving a better analysis of the whole poem, providing it with a deeper meaning.

21 06 2011

A commentary is a relatively informal analysis on a poem or other work. Emphasis is given to various aspects of the subject, and the writer immediately gets into how each part is important to the overall feel and message of the poem. It makes it much easier to understand the meat of the poem, but it loses the thoroughness of more comprehensive methods of analysis.

21 06 2011

A commentary is a detailed analysis of all the aspects of the piece one is commenting on. Interestingly, through this process of dissecting the piece, one is able to uncover the bigger picture that the author is trying to say. In line with this, with regards to the organization, a commentary enables one to jump from idea to idea to somehow be able to dig deeper into the piece.

21 06 2011

A commentary is basically how the reader interprets the selection. It’s not as strict and formal as an essay. In a commentary, the reader looks at the elements of the selection and tries to make meaning and connect it to other ideas. From examining the elements of the poem, the reader then tries to find out what the original author’s message is through the selection.

21 06 2011

A commentary analyzes a literary work, a poem for example, in great depth. It breaks down the literary piece into tiny bits and pieces, so that it can be further examined and discussed. However, unlike essays, the use of language is informal and its organization is more free flowing.

22 06 2011

For me, a commentary is a critique and in depth analysis of a written work. It tries to convey what the author is trying to say in his own words. It tries to use a simpler language for the reader to be able to understand. From this commentary, I can say that the writer used difficult words to prove his point. However compared to an essay, the writer uses simpler words to convey his message. It also has a more free flowing tone compared to a commentary.

22 06 2011

In my opinion, a commentary is a thorough analyzation of any form of media. Based on the root word “comment”, commentaries serve to present views and opinions of the commentator on the piece being commented on. In the commentary above, the student provided an in-depth explanation and break down of each of the different parts of the poem. He described the different elements of a poem and applied them to the “Magician”.

7 01 2016

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