The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Constantly Risking Absurdity” is a free-verse poem consisting of thirty-three lines, broken into three progressively shorter sections of eighteen, nine, and six lines. The poem examines the role of the poet in society, the risks a poet must take, the relationship of the poet to the reader, the qualities of perception a poet must possess, and the relationship of poetry to beauty and truth.

This poem is one of twenty-nine poems grouped together under the title “A Coney Island of the Mind,” one of three sections in the collection of the same name. In an author’s note preceding these poems, Ferlinghetti says he felt “as if they were, taken togethera kind of circus of the soul,” suggesting their variety and vitality. “Constantly Risking Absurdity,” one of two poems in the group that actually uses circus imagery, is untitled in the book, appearing only as poem Number 15 and subsequently taking its name from its first line.

The core of the poem is the assertion in line 6 that the poet is “like an acrobat,” with the entire poem taking the form of an extended comparison between poetry and acrobatics, both of which (as the opening lines suggest) are performances risking “absurdity/ and death.” The poem develops this comparison by portraying the poet as a tightrope walker performing on a “high wire of his own making,” risking his life, dependent not only upon his own skill but also upon the...

(The entire section is 529 words.)