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An Interpretation of What Work Is

An Interpretation of What Work Is

Richard Hugo once wrote “Philip Levine knows a few things so well that he cannot forget them when he writes poetry.” I believe that one of these things is the subject of work. Levine’s theme of work comes from his past experiences of growing up and working during the time of World War II. Philip Levine grew up in Detroit, Michigan during this very difficult time for the United States. His thoughts were occupied with the war and the fear of being sent overseas; therefore his attention was not focused on such things as poetry. Levine was eighteen years old before he realized that poetry had meaning and that he could relate it to his life. A woman gave him a copy of “Arms and A Boy” by Wilfred Owen. After reading it he saw that the people involved had real feelings and issues just as he did. This was when his love for poetry began.

Unlike many other poets, Levine writes about common, everyday, subjects that all people have to deal with. Among these is the subject of work. When you hear the word “work” you may think of a nine to five job that you have to do to pay the bills, but is this the only kind of work there is? According to my interpretation of Levine’s poem “What Work Is”, my answer would be no.

Work is the continual topic throughout the poem “What Work Is”, but the word “work” has several meanings within this poem. In the beginning of the poem the speaker describes how hard it is to find a job. This is where the first meaning of work comes in. The second meaning of work shows up when the speaker is talking about his brother’s job. The final meaning of work comes in toward the end of the poem when the speaker discusses the relationship between him and his brother. I would like …

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…other. He or she must be able to open up and let loved ones see his or her heart, without worrying about things such as age, intelligence, and emotions. It is not too late to do “something so simple, so obvious,” as sharing your feelings with someone you care about. I believe this is one of the main points the author is trying to get across to his readers.

This poem deals with such a simple, everyday subject, but it can be interpreted in many different ways. Philip Levine has a special way of taking the topic of work and turning it into something meaningful. This enables his readers to be changed, for the better, according to how they interpret his work. As Levine would say, “The poet has the ability to use language in a nice way.” and he also gets a very important point across.

Works Cited:

Levine, Philip. What Work Is. New York: Alfred A. Knopff, 1991.

Comparing Museacutee des Beaux Arts and Life Cycle of Common Man

Comparing Musée des Beaux Arts and Life Cycle of Common Man

“Musée des Beaux Arts” and “Life Cycle of Common Man” share a common theme, though the imagery they use to express it is quite different. Both poems have the theme of life goes on or life stops for no one. The difference in imagery is the difference between the general and the specific. I believe that the theme of both poems lies in the same vein, but they take different paths to its development. Auden speaks more about society in general; then, he gives an interpretation of a painting as an example. On the other hand, Nemerov expresses the theme through the “life cycle” of one man, but is this one man–everyman? The “they” of Auden’s poem?

In the first thirteen lines of Auden’s poem, he is not speaking about how life goes on for any one person, but how it does not stop for any one. At first he speaks of the Old Masters: “The Old Masters: how well they understood its human position; how it takes place. . . .” The Old Masters were a group of painters in Belgium in the 1500s that were known for their paintings of the every day, ordinary average life. This was a radical change for the time, directing art away from royalty and the church, and into the everyday that people could relate to. The human position he is speaking of is how we are situated in the world in the most fundamental of ways. These are not our moments of triumph or failure but just our day-to-day life. We are all really in the same position. Life itself, not its quality, is the same for everyone; we are all equal participants in the human experience. It continues on relentlessly for everyone: “While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.

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…cipants no matter what way of life we choose. However for me, it does not take courage to choose the path of the common man. This, in Nietzsche’s terms, is a “no-saying” to life, and not the “yes-saying” to life of Icarus. That is saying yes to the whole of life and not being content with the mundane cyclicity that some accept for life. These poems could be seen as a reminder that we have the choice to be an Icarus or a plowman. Through the imagery of “Musée des Beaux Arts” and “Life Cycle of Common Man,” we see an expression of this idea that life goes on. While Auden uses the art and myth of a different era, Nemerov uses concrete descriptions to show us that life is a continuum; it stops for no one. Whether we choose to try and fly to the sun, or to become John Q. Public, life will go on, and the only thing we can change about that is how we experience it.

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