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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

VARICK STREET, by         Recitation     Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"Varick Street" by Elizabeth Bishop is a poem that explores the theme of change and the passage of time through the use of various poetic techniques.

Imagery: Bishop's use of vivid and sensory imagery throughout the poem helps to create a clear picture of the setting and its changes over time. For example, the "dusty trees," "dusky air," and "dark old tenements" all contribute to the atmosphere and mood of the poem.

Metaphor: One of the most striking metaphors in the poem is the comparison of Varick Street to "a piece of some old queen's clothing." This metaphor emphasizes both the beauty and fragility of the city and its architecture, suggesting that like a piece of old clothing, the city is subject to wear and tear over time.

Symbolism: The poem is full of symbolic references, including the street itself as a symbol of change and the passage of time, as well as the speaker's memories of the street as a symbol of the past. The line "the past is always leaving something out" emphasizes the importance of memory and how it can shape our understanding of the present and future.

Tone: The tone of the poem is nostalgic and reflective, as the speaker looks back on the changes that have taken place on Varick Street over time. The use of sensory details and the focus on memories creates a sense of longing and sadness.

Structure: The structure of the poem is organized around the speaker's movement through the city and the progression of time, with each stanza representing a different moment or perspective. This structure reinforces the theme of change and highlights the importance of memory and perspective in our understanding of the past and present.

Irony: There is a sense of irony in the speaker's celebration of the beauty and history of Varick Street while also acknowledging its decay and impermanence. This creates a sense of tension and ambivalence that underscores the complexity of the human experience.

Repetition: Bishop uses repetition effectively throughout the poem, particularly in the repetition of the name "Varick" and its variations. This repetition emphasizes the centrality of the street to the poem and reinforces its importance as a symbol of change and transformation.

Alliteration: Bishop's use of alliteration creates a sense of rhythm and movement in the poem, as in the line "the dirty dusk, the depth of everything." This reinforces the theme of change and the fluidity of time.

Personification: Bishop personifies the city itself, as in the line "the city draws away from you / as if you're someone else it knows." This emphasizes the power and complexity of the urban landscape and reinforces the idea that humans are a small part of a larger natural system.

Form: The poem is written in free verse, without strict rhyme or meter. This allows Bishop to create a sense of movement and fluidity in the poem, reflecting the movement of the city itself and reinforcing the theme of change over time.

Overall, "Varick Street" is a complex and nuanced poem that employs a range of poetic techniques to convey its themes of change, memory, and the beauty of the urban landscape. Through its use of imagery, metaphor, symbolism, tone, structure, irony, repetition, alliteration, personification, and form, the poem creates a powerful and evocative portrait of a changing cityscape and the passage of time.


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