Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Levine published “Animals Are Passing from Our Lives” in his first collection of poetry in 1968, choosing the last words of the poem as the book’s title. In that year, the United States was in the midst of the Vietnam War, four students were killed in a political demonstration at Kent State University, activists Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated, and throughout Europe revolutionary activities rocked an established social order. By this time, Levine was teaching in California, but he had worked at what he called “a succession of stupid jobs” while he was in high school and Wayne State University and had a deep feeling for blue-collar workers who were not highly valued or acknowledged by a corporate state.

In addition, as the child of recent immigrants from Europe, Levine grew up in a neighborhood with a strong international flavor, and he recalled that “a great many young men from my neighborhood went” as volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. The anarchists who fought for a democratic state impressed him as idealists willing “to take everything the world could dish out and still keep coming back.” This is the spirit he celebrates in “Animals Are Passing from Our Lives,” a poem that accepts the reality of sacrifice and failure in a struggle, but which honors the strength and courage of those who did not let a hopeless position diminish their will to continue. The events of the late 1960’s were...

(The entire section is 422 words.)