The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Paul Zimmer’s “The Eisenhower Years” consists of four stanzas of varying length, unrhymed and of irregular meter, that offer a socially representative picture of the author’s poetic persona, Zimmer, over the course of a typical day in his young adult life during the 1950’s. Although this period, mostly under the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a halcyon time of national prosperity in the United States, in the view of many it was also a period of cultural blandness and conformity, and of ignorance and complacency with regard to such continuing social ills as racism and misuse of U.S. power abroad. In this light, Zimmer instills the poem with a cautionary tenor—one that it introduces as early as the opening line, if only on the personal level of its protagonist—as Zimmer, “Flunked out and laid-off,” puts in a seemingly typical day working at his father’s shoe store, “Zimmer’s Shoes for Women.”

The inherent if unacknowledged pain of the speaker’s directionless and dependent life is underscored by the substance of his work: “the feet of old women,” which “groan and rub/ Their hacked up corns together.” The women come “in agony” to the speaker, who in the reductio ad absurdum of his life, “talks to the feet,/ Reassures and fits them.”

The sense of the speaker’s aimlessness mounts in the second stanza as he returns home from work habitually to check the mail for the ironic “greetings...

(The entire section is 507 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The personal immediacy of Paul Zimmer’s poems, particularly “The Eisenhower Years” and the other “Zimmer” poems, serves largely to make the poet himself the subject of his poetry. In characteristic twentieth century fashion, however, “The Eisenhower Years,” as do the other “Zimmer” poems, plays with such narrative and poetic elements as voice, persona, narrator identity, and uncertain distinctions between poet and the poetic voice in a poem. Through the poetic persona of “Zimmer,” the poet draws direct attention to these issues, when they are otherwise, often, only implicit considerations. “Zimmer” may be a purely fictitious character, but the persona’s name and the seemingly biographical continuities with non-“Zimmer” poems cloud that understanding. In another “Zimmer” poem, “Zimmer in Grade School” (1983), the poet, or his persona, states, “Even now/ When I hide behind elaborate mask/ It is always known that I am Zimmer.” The poet purposely obscures the fictional nature of the “Zimmer” persona, which can lead the reader to understand the “Zimmer” poems as being simply autobiographical.

An analysis of narrative voice in “The Eisenhower Years” leads to a different understanding. It is only in the final stanza that the voice analytically distances itself from Zimmer. The judgment of U.S., and by inclusion, Zimmer’s, complacency, and of the poet’s ignorance and emotional numbness, might exhibit no more than an impersonal, though editorializing, omniscient narrator; however, the “Zimmer” poems, in toto, reveal a very close identity between the poet and the narrative voice...

(The entire section is 671 words.)