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UPTICK, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


"Uptick" by John Ashbery serves as a complex meditation on the nature of time, art, and perception. With characteristic wit and intimacy, Ashbery's words are both conversational and elusive, giving readers a rich ground for multiple interpretations. The opening lines establish an everyday setting, "We were sitting there," but quickly move into a contemplation about the fluidity of time, which "doesn't dovetail." This statement questions the way we traditionally conceive time-as orderly, linear, and continuous.

In saying that one minute runs "faster than the one in front / it catches up to," Ashbery dismantles conventional wisdom about the passage of time. The poet suggests that the minutes are not uniformly experienced, and therefore time might be more chaotic than we believe. Moreover, this irregularity eliminates waste. This could be a comment on the efficiency of life's unpredictability; even its seemingly incongruous moments serve a purpose.

The poem then shifts its focus from time to art, particularly a painting that is "half turning around, slightly apprehensive." The painting is personified; it is apprehensive and pays attention "to what's up ahead: a vision." The apprehension could be about its own interpretation, its own place in the world, or perhaps about the unsettling nature of time that was discussed earlier. Like time, art is neither static nor easily comprehensible. The "vision" it's focusing on could be multiple things: the artist's intent, the viewer's interpretation, or even its own 'future' as an artwork subject to varying perceptions.

Therefore, Ashbery suggests, "poetry dissolves in / brilliant moisture and reads us / to us." Poetry, like time and art, doesn't have a fixed form or meaning. It "dissolves" and adapts, reflecting our own thoughts, fears, and hopes back at us. Poetry, thus, is not just for us to read; it also "reads us to us," making us aware of our complexities and idiosyncrasies.

The poem concludes with "A faint notion. Too many words, / but precious." Here, Ashbery seems to acknowledge that his own endeavor, the poem itself, is a "faint notion"-an incomplete, yet deeply valuable attempt to articulate what is fundamentally inarticulable. Like time and art, the poem doesn't have a fixed meaning; it is slippery, hard to grasp fully, yet "precious" in its attempt to capture the complexities of existence.

Through its deeply contemplative tone and intricate layers of meaning, "Uptick" grapples with some of the most enigmatic aspects of human experience. It challenges readers to reconsider their perceptions of time, art, and the role of poetry, all while acknowledging the limitations inherent in any such endeavor. Even as it questions and dissects, the poem leaves ample space for ambiguity, encouraging us to embrace the uncertainties that make life rich and complex.


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