The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Karl Shapiro’s “Girls Working in Banks” presents a detailed bank scene as it might appear on any business day to clients who walk in to take care of their banking needs. The poem consists of twenty-seven lines of irregular meter that move from one image to the next in an apparently casual description of a familiar environment. The first three lines describe the girls themselves and suggest the grandeur of their surroundings with “rather magnificent floors.” The next three lines mention the girls walking through “rows of youngish vice-presidents” before they return to their stations to deal with money transactions. One of the features of Shapiro’s poems is their immersion in the rituals of American middle-class life. He wrote about Buicks, barber shops, banks, and auto wrecks, topics that were not considered appropriate poetic subjects in the 1940’s, when he started publishing.

Lines 9-16 switch suddenly from the lobby scene to the interior vault of the bank, where the assets are kept, presumably large amounts of money and other valuables. The poet depicts the glowing vault in scrupulous detail, yet Shapiro takes care to point out that “If you glance inside it, there’s nothing to be seen.” These eight lines focused on the interior of the vault suggest there is something important about this unseen space, but it is not yet clear exactly what it is.

Line 17 returns the poem’s focus to the girls, moving easily back and...

(The entire section is 446 words.)