In Louise Glück’s poem, Siren, the speaker is in the role of a mistress. The tone of the poem could be interpreted as resentful. The woman in the poem has dropped her life to be with a married man, who is refusing to leave his wife for her.
I didn’t want to go to Chicago with you.
I wanted to marry you, I wanted
Your wife to suffer.
That stanza shows how she has given up so much for her to be with this man. In my own interpretation, I said that it sounded like the man has made a previous promise to her that he would divorce his wife to be with her.
One major stigma about this poem is that most films and other writings depict the “other woman” as a young, devilish, sex-driven woman, but the speaker in this poem is hopelessly in love with this man. The title of this poem is a give-away to the negative stigma that is talked about in this poem. When she says,
I was a good waitress.
I could carry eight drinks.
It shows that she had a life before she met this man, and she dropped everything to be with him, but he isn’t going to leave his wife anytime soon to be with her. At the end of the poem, she reminisces on everything she has missed out on because she has been waiting on this man.
In the dream, she’s weeping, the bus she’s on
Is moving away. With one hand
She’s waving; the other strokes
An egg carton full of babies.
From my own interpretation, I believe that the woman on the bus is the speaker. While it is an odd visual, she is hurt because she put her entire life on pause for a man who is still in love with his wife. She could have found another man to love her and to take care of her, with whom she could have had kids with, but she is disappointed with herself because she was blinded by love.
In Denise Levertov’s poem, Life at War, she shines a light on the reality of the Vietnam War. During this time, the public had very little actual knowledge of what was actually happening in Vietnam. Levertov has one stanza which is very alarming,
Still turns without surprise, with mere regret
To the scheduled breaking open of breasts whose milk
Runs out over the entrails of still – alive babies,
Transformation of witnessing eyes to pulp – fragments,
Implosion of skinned penises into carcass – gulleys.
This stanza describes the reign of terror that Vietnamese civilians are under. A lot of Americans during this time thought that only Vietnamese soldiers were the ones being hurt, but in reality, there were more civilian deaths than military deaths. The next stanza brings a sense of empathy towards the human race.
We are the humans, men who can make;
Whose language imagines mercy,
Lovingkindness we have believed one another
Mirrored forms of a God we felt as good-
In that stanza, she tells the reader that people are people, no matter where they come from or what they look like. All of these people have lives, and families, and people who care about them and it is wrong to slaughter and torture them just because they happen to be there. In the poem, Levertov does not explicitly state whether she is talking about American citizens or Vietnamese citizens, and I believe she made a conscious decision about this. I believe that she did this to show that killing, no matter race, sexual orientation, and/or religion, should ever be murdered.
Who do these acts, who convince ourselves
It is necessary; these acts are done
To our own flesh; burned human flesh
Is smelling in Vietnam as I write.
This stanza brings the idea to the table of American exceptionalism. When she says “it is necessary” she is saying that part of being an American, is believing that we always have to assert our dominance and power over other countries who either don’t agree with us, or they challenge us.
In Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley is a brute, masculine force that also represents toxic masculinity. Williams describes Stanley in the following quote.
“He is of medium height, about five eight or nine, and strongly, compactly built. Animal joy in his being is implicit in all his movements and attitudes. Since earliest manhood the center of his life has been pleasure with women, the giving and taking of it, not with weak indulgence, dependently, but with the power and pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens… He sized women up at a glance, with sexual classifications, crude images flashing into his mind and determining the way he smiles at them.” (Williams 25).
This quote shows that Stanley doesn’t treat women like people, he objectifies them and treats them as his possessions. The way that Stanley treats Stella is no different than the way Williams describes him. In scene three, Stanley is playing poker and drinking beer with his friends when he hits Stella.
“She backs out of sight. He advances and disappears. There is the sound of a blow. Stella cries out. Blanche screams and runs into the kitchen. The men rush forward and there is grappling and cursing. Something is overturned with a crash.” (Williams 63).
This quote shows that even though Stella is pregnant with his first, and only, child, he still feels that he has complete control over her and her body. Personally, I find it very interesting in how a lot of the description of Stanley is in Williams’ stage notes. While Stanley does have dialogue that represents his personality, but the stage directions show how large and masculine he is.
In the film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon Brando plays Stanley. While doing some research, I found that Marlon’s lifestyle was very similar to that of Stanley’s. Marlon was a very angsty teenager and was the father to at least eleven children with several different wives. Brando was also kicked off of several films because of his erratic behavior. What better actor to play Stanley than Marlon Brando?
On the surface, Claude McKay’s sonnet, The Harlem Dancer describes an African American woman dancing at a bar. If you dig a little deeper you will find that the poem is describing class and division between blacks and whites. This poem was written in 1917 when Harlem was booming with jazz and black culture. The reader describes young white teenagers watching her, as well as prostitutes.
The wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys, and even the girls,
Devoured her shape with eager, passionate gaze;
The quote shows how drunken teenagers are gawking at this beautiful woman, just because they can. For a young white man during this time to be observing a black woman dance, it almost seems as if he is exerting his power over her by saying that he has the right to watch her dance. McKay also states,
Luxuriant fell; and tossing coins in praise,
That quote shows that the audience was throwing coins at her, which can be seen as degrading.
McKay also describes prostitutes watching her dance. This implies that prostitutes are above the dancer. Prostitution, which was very much looked down upon, was better than being a black woman. Another expression of power in the sonnet is the last two lines.
But looking at her falsely-smiling face,
I knew her self was not in that strange place.
This quote shows that although teenagers and prostitutes are gazing at her, she is still unobtainable. In this aspect, the Harlem dancer holds all of the power. It also seems as if the dancer is detached, mentally, from her current situation. The description of her “falsely-smiling face” could imply that she is not familiar with Harlem and her surroundings. McKay is originally from Jamaica and his dancer that he writes about could be, too. If the dancer if unfamiliar with her surroundings, she could not be familiar with how class and social status was defined in the United States during that time.
In William Carlos Williams’ poem, This is Just to Say one point of view states that he is describing a letter that he left for his significant other. The letter describes the plums he has eaten, and how he is sorry that he has eaten them because he knew they his partner was looking forward to eating them, but they were just so delectable and he had to have them. Some may say that he is sorry for eating the plums, but others say that he is being, ironic, playful, and flirty.
The last stanza states:
they were so delicious
and so cold” (Williams 19).
When Williams is describing the flavor and the freshness of the plums, it is almost as he is being playful and teasing his partner about how good they were. Maybe Williams feels a little guilty about eating them. Were they supposed to be shared? This stanza can also give readers an inside look into his personal life. Is Williams a playful stud who is constantly eating plums?
Another point of view the reader can take is that of starvation. This poem was written in 1934 which was the time of the Great Depression. Is the writer truly apologetic because he knows that the plums were the only food left in the house? The same stanza that is written above can be seen as a true apology, maybe even from a child. The words “forgive me” can portray a sense of innocence to the reader.
The plums in the poem could symbolize temptation as well. Let’s be honest here, plums are a great fruit, but are they worth leaving a letter over?
In the end, we may never know what Williams means, but what we do know is that the plums are gone.