An Analysis of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "Constantly Risking Absurdity (#15)"
Constantly Risking Absurdity(#15)
Constantly risking absurdity
whenever he performs
above the heads
of his audience
The poet like an acrobat
climbs on rime
to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
above a sea of faces
paces his way
to the other side of day
and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
and all without mistaking
for what it may not be
For he's the super realist
who must perforce perceive
before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
to start her death-defying leap
a little charleychaplin man
who may or may not catch
her fair eternal form
spreadeagled in the empty air
Lawrence Ferlinghetti from A Coney Island of the Mind: Poems copyright 1958
The poem written above was not transcribed as written by Ferlinghetti. The capsule would not allow me to write the lines as written.
Ferlinghetti's poem has an uncanny resemblance to alliterative/accentual verse.
Alliterative/accentual verse can be seen in ancient text from mostly European countries for example "Beowulf." Alliterative/accentual verse breaks the line into two halves that use the same amount of stress meter in both halves and tends to use similar consonant sounds for each line. Old Germanic Languages tended to center around stress meter where the Romantic languages included more unstressed meter.
Not every line of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poem is double stressed, alliterative, or syllabic. But he uses this style none-the-less to help him suspend the reader, then cast the reader's gaze over humanity from a height.
He separates his lines not by a count of syllables, but by the amount of stresses. This is where the poem falls into the realm of alliterative/accentual. If one were to listen to the audience while watching a high wire act, one would notice that the audience is held in suspense by the theatrics of the performer.
The performer sways back and forth, sometimes it seems he is about to fall, and then he regains his balance, moves forward a few steps, and then sways once more. The audience responds wth surprised inhalations during the swaying and relieved exhalations after his balance is regained.
Ferlinghetti uses his strongly stressed line to begin the poems sway. The reader inhales. Then the line slides to the left side of the paper slowly as he calms down the reader by using less stressed lines. This is the poems regaining of balance and the readers exhale.
He does not have a certain number of syllables, common in syllabics, or a specific amount of primarily stressed metrics. The trapeze artist may have planned his theatrics, but does not want the audience to be bored with the ordinary.
He realizes the hypnotic affect of suspense, and places the reader in the shoes of the trapeze artist. From the rope the reader can then see below to Ferlinghetti's "truth's of humanity."
Ferlinghetti opens the poem by saying that the poet is risking "absurdity" and"death" high above the heads of his audience. He is not saying that poets do feats of great physical prowess that threatens to cause bodily harm.
He is explaining the risks of putting one's heart into the search of the poetic.
The high wire that the acrobat walks upon is the sometimes terrifying journey of self awareness that the poet undertakes to find "truth" and "beauty" in humanity.
The acrobats theatrics are the use of poetic devices to fool the audience, to show the audience and amaze them, to get there attention.
He uses the acrobats constant struggle to find more daring obstacles to entertain to show how the poet must be on a continuous voyage towards "answers", and how this voyage can lead the poet into dangerous grounds.
Ferlinghetti compares the poet to "Charley Chaplin" to show the reader that the poet is not a superman but a normal humble person.
He then ends the poem by showing the reader that the acrobat may never reach an end to his search to entertain, that he will always be continually "spread-eagled in the empty air of existence."
"Constantly Risking Absurdity" explains how lonely the search for beauty can be for the poet by showing the lonely acrobat performing high above on the wire.
It starts by taking the reader up onto the high wire by having to climb on "rime". Then it shows the reader the faces of the audience waiting for him to use "sleight-of-foot tricks" and "high theatrics" to entertain them.
Finally he shows the reader how the acrobat is not simply performing to entertain, he is performing for his own reasons. The acrobat is performing to reach "truth" and "beauty". He is performing to find his own meaning and the meaning to humanity.
Ferlinghetti takes the reader along for the ride. The reader stands next to the acrobat and sees his struggles and feels his emotions, and throughout realizes that the acrobat is the poet.
© 2012 Jamie Lee Hamann