Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a member of the beat generation in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. In his poem “Constantly Risking Absurdity” he searches for truth and high-mindedness. Ferlinghetti’s interest was to make poetry more understandable to the average person.
Written in free verse, the poem uses no punctuation. Because of the lack of punctuation, enjambment becomes a standard part of this verse which allows one thought to flow into the next. It also follows no regular meter or stanzas. The poet’s style would fall under “stream of consciousness” which reproduces the poet’s reflections and thoughts. The poem is one long thought concerning the writing of poetry.
To illustrate and enhance the meaning of the poem, the author uses several literary devices.
- Simile= poet like an acrobat
- Assonance- i sound: "climb, rime, high, wire."
- Metaphor- A Sea of faces— comparing the audience to a body of water filled with many aquatic objects
The poem portrays the poet as a circus acrobat who risks death whenever he performs. The acrobat uses his arms to steady himself and keep his balance just as the poet uses his pen.
Poet like an acrobat
climbs on rime
to a high wire of his own making
The wire that the acrobat walks on is self-made. If the acrobat makes a mistake and has no net beneath him, he will fall to his death. He wants to entertain his audience and to illustrate the talent, practice, and splendor of the performance well done. The same is true of the poet. The poet risks looking and sounding ludicrous when he writes his poetry and uses rhyme [This may be an indictment of poems that rhyme which in Ferlinghetti’s time and even today, most poetry does not rhyme].
- Death =Dying to the poet would reflect on the lack of acceptance of his career, work, and reputation as a writer.
- Poetic nets= Clarity, word choice, subject, imagery
- Above the heads= the poem cannot always be accepted on face value. Look deeper for the meaning.
- Entertainer/audience= the poet and the reader
- Risking= the poet is willing to take a chance to make poetry more available to the average person
- Sleight of foot tricks= the literary devices and tools that the poet uses to make the poem interesting and more understandable to the reader.
The acrobat like the poet must be realistic and perceive the rigid truth as he takes each step or writes each line. He is searching and reaching for Beauty which is the ultimate goal of both the poet and acrobat. Obviously, Beauty is not a real person but a goal that both the acrobat and poet strive toward. Beauty waits with gravity which may be a pun on the idea of seriousness or the actual “gravity” holding acrobat and his goals to the earth. Beauty waits while the poet looks for the right thought or word to illustrate the poem’s beauty. The acrobat depends on gravity and timing to create his beauty.
The acrobat is compared to the comic silent film actor Charley Chaplin who depending on his direction might not catch Beauty as she flies toward him with her arms outstretched like the eagle. The poem’s structure is open, the thoughts are open, but the meaning is clear. The poet struggles to write the poem that can be appreciated by the average person. In the poem, the writer hopes that he achieves truth, beauty, and acceptance.