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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

A PERIOD PORTRAIT OF SYMPATHY, by         Recitation by Author     Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

 

"A Period Portrait of Sympathy" is a poem by Edward Dorn, first published in 1960. The poem takes the form of a portrait of a society marked by complacency and conformity, and offers a critical reflection on the values and beliefs of mid-20th century America.

Explanation:

The poem begins with a description of a society marked by complacency and conformity, emphasizing the ways in which individuals have become disconnected from their own emotions and from the larger struggles of the world. The speaker reflects on the ways in which individuals have become comfortable in their own apathy, and suggests that this comfort is a sign of a larger societal malaise.

As the poem progresses, the speaker reflects on the ways in which societal values and beliefs are constructed, and suggests that these constructions are often built on a foundation of falsehoods and half-truths. The poem emphasizes the importance of questioning and challenging these constructions, and of working to build a more just and equitable society.

The poem ends on a note of ambiguity, with the speaker suggesting that change is both possible and necessary, even as the path forward remains unclear.

Poetic Elements:

  • Form: "A Period Portrait of Sympathy" is a free-verse poem with no set rhyme scheme or meter.
  • Imagery: The poem uses vivid and powerful imagery, particularly in its descriptions of the ways in which individuals have become disconnected from their own emotions and from the larger struggles of the world.
  • Metaphor: The complacency and conformity of society are used as a metaphor for the larger societal malaise.
  • Tone: The tone of the poem is both critical and reflective, emphasizing the need to question and challenge societal values and beliefs.

Summary:

"A Period Portrait of Sympathy" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that reflects on the complacency and conformity of mid-20th century America, and offers a critical reflection on the values and beliefs that underpin this society. Dorn's poem emphasizes the importance of questioning and challenging societal constructions, and of working to build a more just and equitable society. It is a reminder of the ongoing struggle for social justice, and of the need for individuals to take responsibility for their own actions and work towards creating a more just world.

Poem Snippet:

 

"I am surprised at the rosy faces

Which are turned up like flowers

With nearly the same dead smile

As one turned up in a window-box."

 


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