Charles Simic

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How does "At the Vacancy Sign" express sadness through its structural choices?

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The emotion of sadness appears in the poem's structural choices because Charles Simic builds “At the Vacancy Sign” around short words and enjambed lines.

The words comprising “At the Vacancy Sign” are neither grand nor cheery. Simic sticks to small words that have flat sounds. The largest words contain three syllables—“imagine” in line 8 and “Vacancy” in the title. By choosing to structure his poem around truncated words, Simic produces a tone of sadness. Indeed, sad people might often feel clipped or cut off. Their feelings of sorrow may accompany a sense of diminishment or austerity. In Simic’s poem, the words have to make do without many syllables. Additionally, the words don’t sound cheerful. There are not a great deal of bouncy, springy vowel sounds. The curtailed syllables produce a poem that sounds flat, stark, gloomy, or sad. Moreover, many of the words carry connotations of sorrow or abnegation: "small," "grim," scarce," "alone," "thin," and "quiet."

Another way Simic’s structural choices reflect the emotion of sadness appear is through enjambments. Only four of the eleven lines feature end-stops—an explicit grammatical transition, such as a comma or period. Over half of the poem’s lines are enjambed, so they topple into the next line without an overt break. The dominance of enjambments arguably creates a connotation of sadness in that the lack of pauses and breaks mimics the sense of endlessness or hopelessness that so often accompanies despair.

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