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Various aspects of the structure of Earle Birney’s poem “Bushed” seem relevant to its meaning. These aspects include the following:
- The total absence of punctuation. The lack of punctuation forces the reader to pay very close attention to the poem, so that the reader can puzzle out for himself or herself the precise relations between words, phrases, and clauses.
- Absence of punctuation helps make the poem seem, appropriately enough, somewhat “primitive” and “uncivilized."
- Birney often tends to place verbs at the beginnings of new lines, as he does (for instance) in lines 2, 5, 6, 11, etc. Placing verbs in this position gives them maximum impact and often produces a kind of surprise, especially when the verb is not anticipated, as in line 2.
- Birney’s use of alliteration and assonance often helps call attention to specific words and contributes to the “music” of the work. In line 2, for instance, “lake-lap” is a highly inventive and memorable phrase, while in line 3 the emphasis on “so” and “slowed” helps literally slow the pronunciation of the line. Birney, in other words, is not simply setting down words, ideas, and images; he is alert to the sound effects of good writing. The phrase “shack on the shore” (4), for instance, is much more memorable and striking than “hut on the beach” would have been.
- The beginning of each new major idea tends to be signaled by the appearance of a capital letter. Thus, the poem does providesome indication of its structure and organization and of how it should be read; it simply doesn’t provide an abundance of such signaling.
- The fact that the poem is unrhymed contributes, again, to the sense that we are dealing with a work of art that is somewhat deliberately “primitive” and that lacks the obviously polished veneer we associate with “civilization.”
- The fact that the stanzas of the poem vary in length again contributes to a sense of the poem’s spontaneity and unpredictability – traits relevant to its meaning and plot.
- At first Birney seems to suggest that the poem may have a definite stanzaic structure, since the first two stanzas are both three lines long. The next stanza, however, is much lengthier and this undercuts the initial pattern. In this way and in others, the structure of the poem is appropriately unpredictable.
- The phrase “At first” that begins line 7 foreshadows the “But” that appears at the beginning of line 10, illustrating that the poem is not completely unpredictable in its structure, despite its absence of punctuation and the variety of its stanza lengths.
- Sometimes Birney’s emphatic use of verbs helps emphasize the power of the nature, as in lines 11 and 12.
- Line 15 is a good example of a line that demands re-reading. Merely placing a comma after the word “lake” would have made the structure and meaning of the sentence much clearer. Doing so would have made immediately clear whether “lake” was functioning as a noun or an adjective. The fact that Birney chooses to avoid a comma there suggests that he wants readers to have to puzzle out the structure of the poem’s phrasing rather than making such meaning absolutely lucid on a first reading:
When he tried his eyes on the lake ospreys
would fall like valkyries (15-16)
In these ways and many others, then, the structure of the poem contributes to its meaning and to its specific effects and effectiveness.
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