What does it mean to "discuss the language usage and metaphorical references" in Philip Levine's poem "What Work Is"?I really do not understand what I need to write.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A discussion of language usage usually covers diction and vocabulary. For instance, is the diction low (uneducated), middle (average conversational), or high (well educated and formal). Is it abstract diction (about concepts and feelings) or concrete (about things and actions). What is the vocabulary like? Is it flowery or elegant; terse or poetical? Are there a lot of adjectives; concrete nouns; abstract nouns; simple monosyllabic words; polysyllabic words?

A discussion of "metaphorical references" covers the metaphors that are used in the text and their meaning. A metaphor is a comparison of two things that are generally thought to be unlike each other but that are brought together in a metaphor to show new truth or meaning in one of the them. A metaphor compares without using the words "like," "as," or "as though." A metaphor example is, "A streetcar is desire." Comparing these two unlike things presents a futile idea of desire: it's stuck on a track that never gets anywhere (sounds like Tennessee Williams...).

To get you started, the first five lines reveal that the poem starts in casual conversational middle diction with simple, mostly monosyllabic vocabulary.

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is--if you're
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.

However, though there is symbolism and allusion, there are no metaphors that compare two unlike things in a phrase in Philip Levine's poem "What Work Is," which accentuates Levine's diction and vocabulary choices.

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What Work Is

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