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What literary terms are used in the poem "Perfection Wasted" by John Updike?"Perfection...

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wendyg82 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted February 16, 2011 at 10:07 AM via web

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What literary terms are used in the poem "Perfection Wasted" by John Updike?

"Perfection Wasted" by John Updike

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 16, 2011 at 6:35 PM (Answer #1)

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The entire poem is built around an extended metaphor that compares life to some form of comedy act on a stage. Updike begins his poem by lamenting the fact that death marks the end of "your own brand of magic," that is your own personal brand of humour and jokes. Life, in this poem, is compared to a stage performance that you put on for "those loved ones nearest / the lip of the stage." The audience, made up of your nearest and dearest are imagined responding to your show:

...their soft faces blanched

in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears...

This "performance" of humans is "twinned" by their "response," which shows that the "audience" is appreciative and finds the act funny. All of these personal, family in-jokes are described as "The whole act." As the poem ends, Updike ends with the rather sad and depressing thought that the "act" of each of us is incredibly original and can never be repeated once we are gone:

Who will do it again? That's it: no one;

Imitators and descendants aren't the same.

The death of each person represents a tremendous loss, the poem says, not least in terms of our personal sense of humour that is so unique to us and can never be repeated or imitated. Thus the central example of figurative language is how life is compared to a stand up comedy show through an extended metaphor.

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