The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Depression Days” is a short poem in free verse, consisting of thirty-five lines divided into seven stanzas. The title suggests not only a mood but also a specific historical period, 1929-1939. The Depression evokes a time of hardship and suffering because of a shortage of provisions and work. The poem, dedicated to Eduardo Delgado, focuses on the challenges presented to the main character by economic misery and racial discrimination. Pat Mora refers to him in the third person and does not specifically identify him by name until the fifth stanza, when she calls him her “uncle.”

The historical context is important to an understanding of “Depression Days.” The poem emphasizes the economic impact of the Great Depression and the involvement of Mora’s uncle with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), mentioned in line 8. The CCC, one of the most popular relief agencies of the New Deal, provided outdoor employment for numerous young men from 1933 to 1942. Many of the jobs were in conservation, usually in the nation’s parks and forests. The enrollees lived in campsites set up in different states participating in the relief program. One of those work camps is the specific setting for the poem.

The poem begins by projecting the character into darkness as he spends “his last fifteen cents” to purchase a movie ticket. With the last coins in his pocket, he buys a ticket to forget the harsh realities of his personal life. Literally and figuratively, “He buys the dark.” He escapes the light and reality by hiding in the darkness of a theater. As the film begins, he joins its seafaring men on the deck of the ship as their voices sing out, “Red Sails in the Sunset,” a popular English song of the mid 1930’s. Once on...

(The entire section is 715 words.)