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Analysis of Philip Levine’s Poem – "Starlight"
In the introduction, I will identify and analyze the various components of Philip Levine’s “starlight”, such as the speaker; the situation; diction; pictures; figures of speech and other elements of poetry. In this article, the previous elements will be explained in detail.
I will call the speaker of the poem ‘he’ because the poet is a man. The progression of the song is very climactic. In other words, it marks a turning point like most works. For example, line #21, which illustrates where ‘father and son’ meet eye to eye (thus allowing the son to bask in the brightness of the star with his ‘head in the air’). In addition, he continued to ask his father the question his father asked him earlier in the song: “Are you happy?” The speaker’s point of view points to reflections of himself as an image of his father; growing up like his father, and the ‘father like son’ syndrome which is, in a subtle way, illustrated by the following lines: “I’m four years old and I’m getting tired (line 3) – compared to – . . . but I can smell the weariness hanging on his breath.” (16-17 lines) Moreover, this second part of the poem also confirms this thesis.
Of course, point of view – as already pointed out – introduces the speaker’s default attitude towards his view of the poem, thus setting the tone of the poem to be very dark and gray (which is in direct irony with its title, “Starlight”) with the use of key words, such as, “tired; a cigarette; the moon rides low over the old quarter; alone; thick and suffocated; weariness hanging on his breath; autumn, and the boy sleeps never to wake the other world again.”
The structure of the song is very interesting. Well, it seems to be written in closed form after you look at it, at first. However, upon closer inspection, one can notice that the initial letters of the lines are not capitalized; only where a new sentence begins. Therefore, I assumed that its structure was presented in an open form. Furthermore, there are no visible breaks or stanzas in the poem. I’m thinking, does the form represent “the tall, thin child (line 28) or the dark, gray tower of Babel (in its failed attempt) to proclaim itself there among the stars (line 21)?”
The theme of this poem is the comparison (both emotional and physical) between the speaker and his father, which is illustrated in the above passages – framed by its content – for example, lines 8 and 22. In these lines, the same question is asked of both parties (which provide a subliminal reference on their emotional state). Additionally, lines 3 and 17 (‘fatigue’) make a subliminal reference to their physical well-being. In interpretation, these examples represent the speaker (the boy) who ‘grows into’ his father.
The situation seems to be set in a small town. This claim can be confirmed by line 7 – “…low over the old neighborhood….” In addition, the location of this poem is assumed to be in Northeastern America due to key words, such as autumn; a summer month, and a porch (usually a porch – outside the United States). Moreover, I took this setting away because of the stimulation I got from reading the poem, which is, of course, very subjective. Moreover, the experiences reflected in this poem allow me to draw on my own experiences while drawing a mental picture of what is happening in this poem. Therefore, my response to the poem is very subjective in relation to its classical sense of writing. In addition, my reaction to the dynamics is somewhat muted, even though the dynamics of the song have an evenly up-tempo style.
Regarding the song’s writing style/choice of words, especially its diction – the diction used in this song is very specific. Excluding, of course, the last six lines of the poem and the quote: “Are you happy?” These quotes are abstract and are basically the engine that drives the song. For example, these quotes are found at the beginning and end of a song. Likewise, the song is oriented towards detonation, except for the above quotes which are hidden by connotation. The meanings I have interpreted in relation to the above quotations (respectively) are set out in the following sentences. The first quote deals with the speaker’s happiness in his state compared to his father’s happiness in his state (for example, the father said “yes” to a question while the speaker hesitated to answer). The last six lines speak of the transition (reflection) of the son as he grows up to be like his father in the future (“autumn… until the boy fell asleep never to wake in that world again”).
In addition, the ‘father-son relationship’ was central to this poem. This literary work is very rich in images that capture my imagination. As I pointed out earlier, key words like: “the glow of his cigarette, redder than the summer riding moon” – lines #5 – 6 – put me in the active setting of the poem. Bear with me when I look at a song like a film reel. I must say that his poem is visual (line #5 – 6), auditory (line #22), olfactory (line #25), gustatory (line #16 – 17) and synesthetic (line #16 – 17).
Moreover, figures of speech (especially metaphors) also contribute to this poem. For example, “…smell the weariness hanging on his breath.” – lines no. 5 – 6. On the other hand, the use of similes and other figures of speech is limited in this poem.
On the other hand, several elements of poetry are well represented. For example, “autumn” – line #30 – symbolizes adulthood transitioning into old age. The syntax does not contain many rhymes (sounds) although the rhythm and meter are maintained throughout the poem. Also, the entire irony of the song projects the gloom of the experience into the background of the ‘starry night’ – hence the title: “Starlight”.
In conclusion, this song is very well written. The first person skillfully places me in the poem, thus making me an active participant in the poem. The poem makes interesting reading. I was exposed to new insights from the speaker’s point of view.
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