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An Analysis of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "Constantly Risking Absurdity (#15)"

My name is Jamie Lee Hamann and I started sharing poetry articles back in 2013. Every year I share a poem a day in April.

Tightrope walker

Tightrope walker

Constantly Risking Absurdity(#15)

Constantly risking absurdity

and death

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

performing entrechats

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

taut truth

before the taking of each stance or step

in his supposed advance

toward that still higher perch

where Beauty stands and waits

with gravity

to start her death-defying leap

And he

a little charleychaplin man

who may or may not catch

her fair eternal form

spreadeagled in the empty air

of existence.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti from A Coney Island of the Mind: Poems copyright 1958

The poem written above was not transcribed as written by Ferlinghetti. Owlcation changes the formatting. Consider finding a transcript of the poem elsewhere to see the original formatting.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Ferlinghetti's poem has an uncanny resemblance to alliterative/accentual verse.

Alliterative/accentual verse can be seen in ancient texts 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 whereas 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 nonetheless to help him suspend the reader, then cast the reader's gaze over humanity from a height.

He separates his lines not by the count of syllables, but by the number 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, but then he regains his balance, moves forward a few steps, and then sways once more. The audience responds with surprising inhalations during the swaying and relieved exhalations after his balance is regained.

Ferlinghetti uses his strongly stressed line to begin the poem's 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 poem's 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 threaten 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 acrobat's theatrics are the use of poetic devices to fool the audience, to show the audience and amaze them, to get their attention.

He uses the acrobat's 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."

City Light Bookstore

City Light Bookstore

"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.

Questions & Answers

Question: Who or what is placed on the highest level in “Constantly Risking Absurdity”?

Answer: The poet is placed above the audience on the high wire. So the poet is above humanity looking down from his/her precarious high wire act.

© 2012 Jamie Lee Hamann


Pardis on May 31, 2020:

Hi Sir I wrote your analyse it was great would you please help me to analyse it based on aesthetic points of view?do you have any idea about it?

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on June 12, 2014:

I also am afraid of heights yet peotry gives me a way to lift off the ground. Thank you DREAM ON. Jamie

DREAM ON on June 11, 2014:

To read your work is so much fun. I am afraid of heights so anyone that can climb that high and to write about it totally amazes me. That's talent. For me I like to be safe here on the ground. Have a great night.

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on April 24, 2014:

Thank you Harishprasad. Jamie

Harish Mamgain from New Delhi , India on April 23, 2014:

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a great poet and this poem is so beautiful and full of thrill and suspense. Jamie, you have brought forth a real gem for us. Your analysis is wonderful and tells everything so crystal clear about the essence of this great poem. Thank you. Voted up.

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on January 23, 2014:

Thank you Moonfroth, I may move over and check it out. Certainly take a look at some of your poems and others. Jamie

moonfroth on January 23, 2014:

Wonderful stuff Jamie, as usual! I don't post poetry on HP any more. They don't care about poetry. I'm now working on YUKU, a network that cares a lot about poetry re: layout. Whatever you want, that's the way it appears on the page..

Love it

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on January 22, 2014:

Thank you Patty Inglish, MS, it is a pleasure to read your comments. Jamie

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 22, 2014:

In high school when we tired of English Literature, one student passed around Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I am grateful to see your anaylsis and to read more of this poet's work here.

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on December 02, 2013:

Thank you Mike Robbers. Jamie

Mike Robbers from London on December 01, 2013:

This is so clever and well-written, kudos to you Jamie!!

ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on May 06, 2013:

Dang Jamie...

This one STILL has some pretty long legs, huh?? As always your work is top-notch. Congrats on the new one, btw!


Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on May 06, 2013:

Thank you "yo". Jamie

"yo" on May 06, 2013:

Excellent! Absolutely brilliant.

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on April 05, 2013:

Thank you moonfroth. Jamie

Clark Cook from Vancouver ara, British Columbia, Canada on April 05, 2013:


What an exquisitely tight exegesis of an equally elegant poem. You PACK significance into every syllable of your wonderfully lean prose. A rare talent. Thank you.

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on January 25, 2013:

Thank you chef-de-jour. Jamie

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on January 25, 2013:

Hey thank you for this analysis of Ferlinghetti's Constantly Risking Absurdity. It's a fine line a poet treads when he sets out to walk along a poem, constructing it as he moves along! The tightrope walker is a beautiful image and just perfect for analogy.

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on January 16, 2013:

Thank you Pheobe Pike. Jamie

Phoebe Pike on January 15, 2013:

Wonderfully written. I tip my hat to you.

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on November 09, 2012:

Thank you goego for stopping by. Jamie

goego from Loserland on November 08, 2012:

So good, Thank you

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on October 18, 2012:

Thank you Docmo. Jamie

Mohan Kumar from UK on October 17, 2012:

Brilliant. I'm not familiar with this beautifully observed work.. the metaphorical excursion and the construction shimmer with Feringhetti's genius. Your erudite commentary explains and extrapolates so well as a perfect accompaniment to his poem. A wonderfully illuminating hub. Thank you!

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on October 09, 2012:

Thank you AudreyHowitt for sharing. Jamie

Audrey Howitt from California on October 09, 2012:

Wow Jamie--so interesting! Thank you!

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on July 23, 2012:

Thank you PDX for stopping by to read my hub, and leaving a comment. I hope you are doing well. Jamie

Justin W Price from Juneau, Alaska on July 21, 2012:

Very nice analysis, Jamie. I enjoyed the poem and your analysis made it stand out even more so. Well done, my friend.

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on June 04, 2012:

you're welcome, thank you...

Joshua Buchalter on June 02, 2012:

thank you, helping me do well in an English exam I hope :)

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on May 29, 2012:

Thank you snakeslane.

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on March 11, 2012:

Hey Jamie, here's a song for you:

ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on March 04, 2012:


Excellent Job...I'n glad we were talking and this came up in conversation for fear of missing it. I must say...prose, poetry, or puppets...It's hard putting yourself out there as you continuously search for beauty!

I liked this one!


Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on February 25, 2012:

Thank you snakeslane, it is good to hear from you.

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on February 23, 2012:

Wow Jhamann, thanks for this introduction to Ferlinghetti's 'Constantly Risking Absurdity #15'. I got a bit dizzy reading it. (Not good at heights) I am interested in your discussion of his use of stresses. Sad that capsules could not accommodate his actual line breaks, but your description fills the gaps. I believe learning by example is the best way to become a poet. I appreciate the example you've presented here. Many thanks, snakeslane