Although “Daylights” is set in New York, presumably around the time the poem was written, there is nothing specifically related to New York in it. The liquor store robbery, the inciting incident for the speaker’s meditation on daylight, could happen any place. However, the appearance and reaction of the crowd and the liquor storeowner suggest a big city and the accompanying sense of anonymity people feel in them. In 1984, when “Daylights” was published, the prison population in the United States was 454,000, more than double the population in 1970. By 1999, there were more than 1.2 million people in prisons throughout the country, plus an additional half million in local jails. During the 1980s, the Reagan administration made tougher law enforcement a national priority. In 1981, Reagan declared a National Crime Victim’s Week—the first of its kind—and Nancy Reagan launched her “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign. Reagan was voted into office during a time of high inflation and a soaring national crime rate, and his anti-crime initiatives were responses to these. His Economic Recovery Act of 1981 was meant to increase investment allowances, provide incentives for people to contribute to individual retirement accounts, and reduce taxes on big corporations in order to stimulate job growth and, it was hoped, reduce crime. In 1983, oil prices dropped and inflation eased. This helped Reagan and his vice president, George Bush, win a landslide election in...
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Point of View
This poem uses the second person “you” as a projection of the speaker. Such use often suggests that the speaker is alienated from herself in some way, that she feels disembodied. Use of the second person has become more prominent in twentiethcentury literature in general and in the last few decades of the century in particular. This use fits symbolist verse well because it is a stylized form of address when the “you” stands for the speaker. However, the “you” here also works to draw the reader into the speaker’s experience, Warren’s chief aim. The goal of the poem is not to name things in the world but to evoke an experience in readers.
Imagery and Sound
Warren employs a combination of crisp symbolic and concrete visual imagery and a variety of near-rhymes, off-rhymes, assonance, consonance, and onomatopoeia to create a verbal texture suggesting busy-ness and alarm. For example, verbs such as “humdrumming” and “zigzagging” sound like the actions they name. By using words that so accurately embody physical actions they also represent, Warren closes the distance between speaker and reader.
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Compare and Contrast
1984: Geraldine Ferraro from New York becomes the first woman vice presidential running mate, teaming with the Democratic Party’s Walter Mondale.
2000: Joseph Lieberman becomes the first Jewish vice presidential candidate for a major party, teaming with the Democratic party’s Al Gore.
1985: Bernhard Goetz is charged with attempted murder for shooting teenagers on a New York City subway. Goetz claims the teenagers threatened him and attempted to rob him. New York City crime becomes front-page headlines in newspapers across the country.
2000: Mayor Rudolph Giulliani’s law and order administration is credited with the continuing drop in New York City’s crime rate. However, abuses by police continue to plague the city.
1985: Scientists claim that a hole in the ozone layer, first detected in 1977, is now indisputable.
2000: The media carries first-hand reports that the polar ice cap is melting, an effect of global warming.
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Topics for Further Study
Make a list of the images that you would use to symbolically describe the town or city in which you live; then write a poem using those images.
After researching the symbolist poets of the latenineteenth century, write an essay arguing for the ways in which “Daylights” is and is not a symbolist poem.
Write a story about a time when you encountered violence. Explain what you learned from the experience.
Pick one other poem from Warren’s collection Each Leaf Shines Separate and explain how it is part of another poem or work of art.
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The Atlantic sponsors a website at http://www. theatlantic.com/unbound/poetry/soundings/hardy. htm on which Rosanna Warren reads Thomas Hardy’s poem “During Wind and Rain.”
The journal Philosophy and Literature carries Warren’s essay “Alcaics In Exile: W. H. Auden’s ‘In Memory Of Sigmund Freud’” at http://muse.jhu.edu/demo/phl/20.1warren.html (last accessed April 2001), along with other interesting articles.
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What Do I Read Next?
Warren’s poetry appears in The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, published in 1984. This anthology showcases Warren’s work as well as that of many of her contemporaries.
In The Roots of Romanticism, published in 1999, editor Henry Hardy collects lectures delivered by historian of philosophy Sir Isaiah Berlin at Washington, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art in 1965. Berlin shows how romanticism would later influence twentieth-century thinkers and artists. This is an accessible and useful study of romanticism.
Paul Horgan’s study of Henriette Wyeth’s art, The Artifice of Blue Light: Henriette Wyeth, released in 1994, argues that Wyeth’s work “belongs in the first rank of contemporary American painters.” Among other things, Horgan examines Wyeth’s use of the color blue in her paintings.
Warren’s second collection of poems, Stained Glass, published in 1993, contains thirty-nine poems, most of which concern death. These poems have the intensity of visual imagery which readers have come to expect from Warren’s work.
Warren published a work of fiction, The Joey Story, in 1963 when she was only ten years old.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Baudelaire, Charles, Selected Letters of Charles Baudelaire: The Conquest of Solitude, edited by Rosemary Lloyd, University of Chicago Press, 1986.
Beach, Richard, “Psychological Theories of Response,” in A Teacher’s Introduction to Reader-Response Theories, National Council of Teachers of English, 1993, pp. 71–101.
Berlin, Sir Isaiah, The Roots of Romanticism, edited by Henry Hardy, Princeton University Press, 1999.
Bernstein, Charles, and Bruce Andrews, eds., The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book, Southern Illinois University Press, 1984.
Bottoms, David, and Dave Smith, The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, Quill, 1985....
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