Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As Levine combines narrative and lyricism, he also combines themes, incorporating a number of motifs into the poem. It is impossible to ignore his richly detailed snapshots of American life. Levine has frequently been compared with nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman for his democratic portrayal of working-class America. Indeed, Levine grew up in working-class Detroit and incorporates those experiences into much of his poetry. Like so many of his poems, “28” presents brief, vivid, instant flashes of Americana: towns such as East Palo Alto, home to “divorcees and appliance salesmen” and people such as the Okie Sunoco station attendant on Pacheco Pass.

Levine also intends the poem to be a tribute to Yvor Winters. In the introduction to his memoirs, Levine expresses his need to honor the memory of those persons who helped make him the writer and thinker he became. Clear, narrative details based on Levine’s own experiences provide the vital emotional backdrop for “28.” For Levine, these portraits are intimately tied with poem’s main theme, the inexorable passage of time and the progression to Nothingness. The poem’s title refers to Levine’s age when he met Winters. Winters, twice that age, was dying. Now that Levine has reached fifty-six, the same age, he reexamines his life and relationship with both Winters and mortality. As the poem returns to Levine’s youth, the reader is also shown Winters’s preparations for death, the...

(The entire section is 450 words.)