Figures of Thought

by Howard Nemerov
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How does organization of the poem "Having a Mind to Change the World" by Howard Nemerov affect the meaning?

The poem "Having a Mind to Change the World" by Howard Nemerov can be read as a comic poem about the pride, or hubris, of mankind that has absolutely no control over when or where the sun moves. The tone of the poem is rather sarcastic and absurdly comic. The implication that Nemerov likely wants to convey is that humans, of course, have absolutely no control over when or where the sun moves.

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This poem can be read as a comic poem about the pride, or hubris , of mankind, which every summer, in countries like Great Britain and the United States of America, puts the clocks forward by an hour to have more daylight in the evening, a practice known as daylight...

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This poem can be read as a comic poem about the pride, or hubris, of mankind, which every summer, in countries like Great Britain and the United States of America, puts the clocks forward by an hour to have more daylight in the evening, a practice known as daylight saving time.

The first four lines of the poem constitute the exposition, meaning we are given some information as to who, what, where, and when (or what time) the poem is about. We are told that it is about "shift(ing) the sun," as Nemerov humorously puts it, that those responsible are "the Republic," and that it happens "twice a year and during Sunday sleep."

The next part of the poem serves to expose the absurdity of this decision each year to "shift the sun," and, in doing so, Nemerov also establishes the tone of the poem. Nemerov writes that humans move the sun "by twiddling some knobs / Whereupon the sun obedient moves back and forth." The tone here is rather sarcastic and absurdly comic. The implication that Nemerov likely wants to convey is that humans, of course, have absolutely no control over when or where the sun moves.

The third part of the poem, lines 8 to 13, serves to compound the absurdist tone introduced in the previous part of the poem. Nemerov does this by comparing mankind's supposed feat in making the sun obediently shift back and forth across the sky to the biblical story of God making the sun stand still for a few hours so that Joshua and the Israelites could have more time to win a war. The point that Nemerov is making here is that even "Joshua in the Vale of Ajalon," with the help of God, could not make the sun shift as much as mankind does every summer with daylight saving time.

The final part of the poem, the last two lines, form a rhetorical question, where the poet asks what man can't accomplish if he is capable of commanding the sun to shift across the sky, more so than even Joshua could do with the help of God. The question is meant to be sarcastic and finishes the poem by pointing to the absurdity of mankind's hubris.

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