Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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What is a critique and analysis of "I Am Waiting"?

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti is part of the Beat generation, a movement of poets and artists who critiqued and rebelled against the conservatism of postwar American society. His poem "I Am Waiting," first published in 1958, is a rejection of the aforementioned conservatism and was inspired in part by Ferlinghetti's involvement in...

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti is part of the Beat generation, a movement of poets and artists who critiqued and rebelled against the conservatism of postwar American society. His poem "I Am Waiting," first published in 1958, is a rejection of the aforementioned conservatism and was inspired in part by Ferlinghetti's involvement in Allen Ginsberg's Howl obscenity trial.

Throughout the poem, Ferlinghetti lists the hopes he has for the future of America. He hopes, for example, that one day somebody will "really discover America." The implication here is that the America of 1958 is not the "real" America, but rather is some kind of inauthentic version. It is perhaps not, from the poet's perspective, the America described in the Declaration of Independence, in which "all men are created equal" and "the pursuit of Happiness" is an "unalienable Right." Indeed, in the America of 1958, all Americans were certainly not treated equally.

At the beginning of the fourth stanza, the poet declares that he is "waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed," this perhaps being a reference to the aforementioned inequality. He is, of course, implying that the America of 1958 is a country riven by division and conflict. The America that he is waiting for is, by contrast, a country defined by unity, harmony and cooperation. It is perhaps a country like the one described five years later in Martin Luther King's speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in which he described "little black boys and little black girls ... able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls as sisters and brothers."

Throughout the poem, at the end of every stanza, the poet declares that he is waiting for a "rebirth of wonder." This refrain implies that the America of the time is one stifled with conservative, conventional thinking, unwilling or unable to excite the imagination. Indeed, as alluded to above, it was just this type of thinking that the Beat generation of poets were rebelling against. Instead, they wanted an America open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. They wanted an America (to paraphrase Aldous Huxley) willing to open wide "the doors of perception." This is the America that Ferlinghetti also wants to see, and which he imagines, in the final stanza, as "green mornings," "unpremeditated art," and a "long careless rapture."

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