a short stanza concluding a poem, serving as a dedication or postscript to a prose composition. Or, “the envoi served as a commentary on the preceding stanzas, either reinforcing or ironically undercutting the message of the poem.”
In Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, an envoy is sent from Terra to another planet, which they refer to as Winter, in hopes of swaying them to join into an existing confederation of planets. Before arriving the envoy spends years learning their language and customs for the maybe obvious reason of avoiding offense. In response Winter receives the envoy and offers certain comforts before the slow and long process of negotiating their presence and solicitations. This exchange is much like the ancient Greek custom of xenia: to unexpected travellers you would show niceties and good faith before asking who they were or how they arrived on your shores or whether they had a plot. Ceremony before purpose. As is with the envoi. The initial contact is the poem, the aesthetic object or gesture, whereas the envoi is the belated plea, the intent that is sometimes only scarcely disguised by its lead. The envoi can be an audacious concession of how the aesthetic often fails to neatly arrive at the point. And yet, synchronously, it reinforces its platform, because, of course, the envoi does not exist without the poem. It is so that the failure to be explicit does not define the aesthetic as a failure at all. Or that sometimes decorum is just foreplay.
> Here the pleas vary, surfacing from different species, vocalities, intimacies. To me, there is a hopeful deterioration that says something about the atemporal drift I feel stuck in. Like living in the split between the before and the after of some decisive (and I can’t help but think cataclysmic) event, still obscured from view.
— Kate Kolberg