"The Victims" by Sharon Olds - Internal Structure

The Victims from the narrator’s point of view sets up the plight of a mother and child who ruthlessly bashes on her former husband for his years of abuse and neglect. The mother and children revel in the father’s demise. They celebrate his firing because it symbolized all that was wrong with him. His job (suit) was like a carcass, he had secretaries and his bourbon taken away (Adultery and Alcoholism). However at the end, the tone shifts and sympathy arises from the narrator observation of bums on the street. He/She realizes that the father was just as much a victim in his fall as they were his victims. In order to fall, someone had to take.

Throughout the poem, the narrator seems to have grown up. The second section starts with “Now I” as if it was years later when the narrator has his epiphany while passing bums in doorways. Thus the poem is organized into two sections, one when younger following the divorce and the other later in life (perhaps when the narrator is an adult) when the narrator has matured to realize the grey nature of the word “victim.”

"Sonrisas" by Pat Mora - Internal Structure

The poem talks about two different types of women. One is uptight, rarely smiling and all about “budgets, tenure, curriculum,” while the other is laughing, smiling and loud. To highlight the differences between the two groups, Mora splits the poem into two stanzas, one for each group. In each stanza he also takes a similar structure to describe both groups. The two sets are compared based on how they drink coffee. The uptight women are drinking black coffee, serious and somber while the loud laughing women are drinking a light-hearted milk coffee. One group is wearing crisp beige suits while the other swirls around in faded dresses.

Mora picked a set of differences are talked about them in each stanza. At the end, the poet mentions the differences between their eyes. One to avoid and one dark and mesmerizing.

Sonrisas’ organization lends itself from the two rooms that the poet mentions. The first room in one stanza, the second in the next. It’s like a table where the differences are off to the sides and split up.

"Messy Room" by Shel Silverstein - Language

Shel Silverstein’s poems are never considered too seriously and Messy Room follows that mold. Silverstein’s choice of words are simple yet descriptive. By keeping it simple and avoiding longer and more esoteric words, Silverstein gives the poem a playful attitude.

His use of rhyming words at the end of the lines also buoy that attitude. It keeps the poem, quick, simple, playful and concise. The descriptions and repetition of the line “Whosever room this is should be ashamed” builds up the irony for the poem’s conclusion where the speaker realizes that it was his own room.

Silverstein’s use of a noun with a preposition and a place creates some interesting situations that truly bring out the messiness of the room. The images are both humorous and telling. Lizards sleeping in beds and underwear on the lamps are unusual and thus hilarious to the reader. While most readers would have their own messy rooms, they hardly become like the pigsty in Silverstein’s poem.

While Messy Room can be disregarded as another silly children’s poem, it deservers another look. Even South Park conveys very deep moral messages hidden in its silly exterior of swears and vulgarity. What is the message in Messy Room? Well, it shows us how we all tend to blame others before blaming ourselves and reveals the hypocrisy in society.

"Messy Room" by Shel Silverstein

Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.
His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,
And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.
His workbook is wedged in the window,
His sweater's been thrown on the floor.
His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,
And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.
His books are all jammed in the closet,
His vest has been left in the hall.
A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or--
Huh? You say it's mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar!

"Fast Rode the Knight" by Stephen Crane - Language

It’s amazing what Crane does in such a short poem. He imbues the knights with qualities like courage and justice. He gives justification for their acts and then tears it all down. Crane’s message is clear, war is never justified.

The knights ride with “spurs, hot and reeking” and waving “eager” swords. Their off to “save my lady.” What greater reason could there be. Knights in shining armor off to some distance land to save a damsel in distress. Immediately, without further description, Crane uses our own background knowledge of knights and castles to further his own vivid descriptions. The knight’s banner is golden, like his task at hand, and he is a man of steel, unflinching in war.

Yet, despite the glory and power these knights ride out to war with, in the end, the horse is “Blowing, staggering, bloody.” It had been forgotten in the chaos and misery of war, left to die at the foot of a castle wall. The fact Crane chose a horse makes the poem more touching had it been the knight. A horse is under control of his knight and goes off to war without a say of its own and it pays the price.

"Fast Rode the Knight" by Stephen Crane

Fast rode the knight
With spurs, hot and reeking,
Ever waving an eager sword,
"To save my lady!"
Fast rode the knIght,
And leaped from saddle to war.
Men of steel flickered and gleamed
Like riot of silver lights,
And the gold of the knight's good banner
Still waved on a castle wall.
. . . . .
A horse,
Blowing, staggering, bloody thing,
Forgotten at foot of castle wall.
A horse
Dead at foot of castle wall.

A Map of the City by Thom Gunn - Situtation/Setting

The place in this poem is a city, any city really, it doesn’t matter which one you pick; crowded New York, sprawling LA or our-roads-make-no-sense Boston, all of them are the same. By not naming any particular city, Gunn can talk about all of them at once.

With his vantage point “upon a hill,” Gunn casts his judgment upon the concrete, luminous jungle that lay before him. He sees the drunks, the transients, and the web of fire escapes. From his view, he can see the entire city in its entirety. Because of his love of chance, he loves the potentiality of the city’s randomness and its mix of danger. He loves the crowded, broken, and unfinished nature of the city, always under construction because he loves the risk it brings.

Singapore by Mary Oliver - Situation/Setting

Singapore 1990s, Singapore Now

While the poem is titled “Singapore” I didn’t think it played as much significance as the situation, watching a woman scrub toilets and live a life modest compared to our own. Upon seeing her, “a darkness was ripped from my [her] eyes.” She had an epiphany. While she was disgusted at first and overcome with judgment, she overcame that to see the beauty and dignity that this woman embodies. “Everybody needs a job.”

The subtle smile exchanged between the two women who couldn’t be more different is the situation that makes Oliver’s epiphany possible. Singapore could be substituted for any other city because even in America, there are still people scrubbing toilets and washing ashtrays. By no means is the woman’s job unique to Singapore. Though, at the time when the poem was written, Singapore did represent a destitute third-world country which could expand the poem’s meaning from acceptance between two people to acceptance between two cultures.


Hanging Fire by Audre Lorde - Speaker

“Hanging Fire” is another story about youth, expect with much darker implications. Instead of youthful bliss, Lorde describes an adolescent nightmare. The speaker is fourteen with acne (my skin has betrayed me), “ashy knees,” no ambition (“There is nothing I want to do”), braces and suicidal thoughts. She keeps wondering if she would “live long enough to grow up” and “what if” she died.

The line “and momma’s in the bedroom with the door closed” suggests that either her parents don’t regard her or are dead. She’s further tortured by the fact that “Nobody even stops to think about my side of it.” No one understands her and she feels cheated by the world. She feels cheated that despite having higher marks, she’s not on the math team, and being the one wearing braces. The use of “how come,” and “why do,” suggests frustration about her current situation.

The speaker’s realizes that the world is full of lies and deceit and the only way she’ll be told the truth is if she died. She realizes how false people are to each other.

Hanging Fire - To delay


Sudden Journey by Tess Gallagher - Speaker

Sudden Journey is about a woman’s reflection on her childhood. We can tell that the speaker is a girl from this line: “I’m still a boy under my breast spots,” and we can tell it’s a reflection upon her past from this line: “Maybe I’m seven in the open field.” We can tell the speaker has the highest regards for her childhood. This is based on the absolute blissful tone she writes in. There’s no form to the poem, lending to its youthful freedom. As a child, the speaker can drink from anywhere and pull down her shirt, freedom that she lacks later in life.

In this 1986 interview with Don Swaim, the poet Tess Gallagher talks about growing up as the child of a logger in the Pacific Northwest. She recalls the stillness of the forest, and the larger-than-life images of the trees. Remembering the past forms the basis for many of her poems. She reads her poem, "Sudden Journey," and talks about the influence of her husband, Raymond Carver, on her writing. "It's all right to be a little lost when reading poems," says Tess Gallagher, "It's not necessary to understand everything. It's important not to lose a sense of the unknown. Poems don't always give themselves all at once."" - From http://wiredforbooks.org/tessgallagher/

Listen to the Tess Gallagher interview with Don Swaim, 1986


A Dream Within A Dream by Edgar Allan Poe - Tone

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow--
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand--
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep--while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

In “A Dream Within A Dream,” the narrator is grieving upon the loss of a loved one and his hopes and dreams. Poe does this in a sarcastic way, claiming even though he’s lost so much, it doesn’t really matter because life is just a dream. He is questioning whether it matters if he lost anything as Nothing is real and “All that we see or seem\ Is but a dream within a dream.” His tone is bitter, and sarcastic and borderline angry. It’s clear that he is bitter over the loss but he conveys it with sarcasm.

The next stanza talks about how everything he hopes to hang onto slips “through my fingers to the deep,” while he can only weep. Poe’s tone is depressing and angry. The use of “O, God” suggests anger over his inability to hang onto the important things in life. He grieves over the loss of the “few” important things in his life (“golden sand”) as he stands on a “surf-tormented shore” which is boundary between him and the rest of the world. At the end, he questions whether anything he does is real, a result of his torment and depression

William Blake's London - Tone

This was a terrific poem with some catchy lines, “marks of weakness, marks of woe.” However, despite its clever and witty use of words, the poem’s tone is not funny or charming at all. In fact, after several re-readings, “London” conveys a tone of fiery anger.

The first stanza is more somber than angry. Blake notices the woeful nature of his compatriots while wandering the streets of London. Every person he meets carries a mark of woe or sadness. The second verse is where the anger starts to build up. As Blake lists all the terrible things about London, you can just hear his voice rising with every “every.” This sort of repetition creates emphasis which is akin to saying a word louder and louder with more and more emotion; in this case, anger. The stanza ends with “mind-forged manacles,” a symbol for oppression of the people. Since Blake was around during the French Revolution, he certainly realizes that the people have full right to revolt except for the mental barriers imposed on them by their government. From this last line, it almost seems that Blake is angry at the people for not revolting.

The next stanza is another list of reasons to hate London; The dreadful situation of London Chimney-sweepers and the soldiers who are defending a government not worth dying for. In the last stanza, Blake uses a situation to emphasize his dark tone. A Harlot passes her disease to her child and to the men who seek her services. These men would take her diseases back to the marriages which end in a hearse. This dark situation set during “midnight” reveals the evil nature of London and what it’s doing to the people.