Thursday, April 3

Red Shift Explication

In the poem “The Red Shift” Ted Berrigan suggests that the original concept of American beliefs, such as acceptance, originality, blind justice and guidance, are being lost through his use of symbols and word choice, such as the “tree in winter streetscape”(3) or “Calvados”(10). Berrigan has a tone that is very aggressive that shows he doesn’t like where the American way of thinking is going. Throughout this poem the pace quickens and the lines lengthen to express a quickening of the speakers thought process and change of mood. The poem changes from expressing what the physical world, into what the speaker feels, which ends up being mostly anger based emotions. The beginning is setting the stage, but the choices Berrigan makes for the speaker to see pushes the reader to think the setting suggests something more through symbols. The first frame starts to establish time and what the speaker looks like. The time, “8:08 p.m.”(1) seems too specific to be a random choice. It is a palindrome which, because of it’s ability to be read forward and backward the same way, may suggest that people always return to their original state, or they move as far backward as forward. This original state that Berrigan is referring too is our original tribe based hunting groups. People try to leave this animalistic state through government and thought. Also, is you tip the numbers on their sides they end up having an infinity symbol on either side of a circle, or a zero. Zero in math terms is the origin. Through the application of the definition of origin as the ancestry, we can infer that no matter how you perceive things, either left to right or right to left for writing purposes, that we are no where near our origins. The next description is of himself and what he is feeling from his surroundings, again through word choice and symbolism you can extrapolate that there is a larger meaning. The speaker describes an “indefinable ample frame,”(1) which tell us he is a big guy, but not for any reason other than he eats too much because he is indefinable. This again is a comment on the new American lifestyle. During his time the obesity problem in American wasn’t as drastic as it is now, but it still existed. “February,”(2) is a month that is during the winter time. Winter time is often used to symbolize death, and in this case to the original American way of thinking. The “fierce arabesques”(2) are snow flakes due to their decorative nature and their “ballet” downward from the sky. The snowflakes symbolize people and their individuality. How they are “on the way to tree in winter streetscape,”(3) suggests they are simply dancing their way to death. Trees in winter look like they are dead, and the buildings and streets themselves look very inorganic and not alive. So, the way the snowflakes move to death, as do people and their originality. The speaker moves into his own mind, and then a memory, which is rich with symbolism and word choice. “The Calvados”(10) is an apple brandy. Apples are a very American food, through the stories of Johnny Apple Seed and the acceptance of the apple pie as the national desert. However the Calvados “is being sipped on Long island now/twenty years ago,”(10-11) which suggests it isn’t being sipped on now. So the American way is not being enjoyed as it was. The man is “looking at a smiling attentive woman,”(12) who is a symbolic mix of the Statue of Liberty and Lady Justice. This can be deduced because both of these women are wrapped in cloth. The speaker “would have never thought,”(13) he’d “be here , nothing / wrapped up,”(13) because he isn’t wrapped up like either woman is. There is also reference to a New York City street later in the poem, “6th / and Bower”(20-21) pointing towards the Statue of Liberty as an acceptable symbol. “Love, children, hundred of them, money, marriage- / ethics,”(16-17) are all things that these women represent a hope for in this new country. The speaker then mentions that his “pretty girl, nineteen, who was / going to have to go,”(21-22). I think he is speaking from another person, almost quoting them. It could be from a business person who knows blind justice and liberty couldn’t make him the most profit. Also the age of the woman shows she is just barely in adulthood, which mirrors American in how it is a young country compared to most of the world. This concept of the death of the American dream is an important one. If Berrigan writing this poem makes someone realize this downfall, then they might act to change it. We all believe that we are in the most free and most accepting nation in the world. Berrigan proposes that we might be losing our original beliefs as a nation

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