Within a few months in 1956, Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote twenty-nine poems that he envisioned as a unit. In his second book of poetry, A Coney Island of the Mind, they appear numbered, without titles. Number 1, “In Goya’s greatest scenes we seem to see,” is a lyric written in open form, having no regular rhyme, meter, or line length. Placed on the page so as to have a visual effect, the poem has six sections of varying length, ranging from twenty lines to three words. (Anthologies vary in the way they present the poem, not always retaining the original spacing between lines and thereby varying the number of sections.)
The title, taken from the first line of the poem, immediately introduces the first of two topics: works by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya. The poet directs readers first to Goya’s works, which present “suffering humanity.” Ferlinghetti then suggests scenes of war through words such as “writhe,” “veritable rage,” and “adversity.” Specifically, the poem alludes to Goya’s Disasters of War, created in 1810 but not published until 1863, years after his death. This series of sketches depicts the brutality, on the part of both the French and the Spanish, in the Peninsular War (1808-1814). Although Ferlinghetti never names the Disasters of War, he uses words to bring Goya’s images from those sketches to mind: “bayonets,” “landscape of blasted trees,” “wings and beaks,”...
(The entire section is 539 words.)