Lola Ridge’s poem “Bowery Afternoon” consists mainly of imagery to convey the mood of Manhattan’s Bowery neighborhood. At the time the poem was written, the Bowery was a notorious haven for prostitution, hence why she included the description of the “bosoms and posturing thighs.”
The speaker of the poem assumes a disdainful tone toward the Bowery, as evidenced by the diction. Examples of judgmental diction include “drab,” “rancid,” “uniformity,” “mangy,” “gaudy,” and “bloated.” All of these words have a strong negative connotation, which indicates that the speaker is disgusted by what see observes.
This is closely connected to the imagery of the poem. “Smoky and fly-blown glass of lunch rooms” suggests a dingy, run-down atmosphere. In addition, the windows are “devoid of light,” which indicates a hollow emptiness and absence of activity. These images reinforce Ridge’s disdainful tone.
The poem’s final simile helps convey the theme. The speaker describes an “Elevated/ Droning like a bloated fly.” Ridge suggests that in each of the depressing images she describes of the Bowery, there is a pervading noise: the ever-present sound of the famous elevated rail line that operated above the neighborhood.
Ridge is commenting on the ugly side of urban life, and how a neighborhood’s literal and moral decay coincides with urban development.