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Knowledge Themes

(Poetry for Students)


Addonizio's poem ends with an awareness of fear and an acknowledgment that the horrors of the past might well presage worse events in the future. She holds that one indeed has reason to be afraid, as the future will hold more to "know," more to grasp that will remind humankind that not all people are "fundamentally good," as is perhaps too often believed. Fear about what might still happen is prevalent throughout the poem; indeed, that fear is the central focus underlying the text. In spite of people's innate willingness to believe in the goodness of humankind, ample evidence of evil exists. The poet uses the word "afraid" prominently, at the end of line 19, as she brings the poem to a close. Thus, the image that she leaves with her readers is a depressing reminder that while one may believe that no event could be worse than what has already taken place, the possibility of worse horror remains. This possibility is what creates so much fear.


Much of Addonizio's poem reminds her readers that hopefulness is a natural human condition. She acknowledges that despite the evidence of "human cruelty," people spend their whole lives "believing that humanity / was fundamentally good." This is an observation that cannot be supported by the events of the past, and yet hope perseveres. Addonizio cites the most pessimistic of philosophers, Arthur Schopenhauer and Thomas Hobbes, as examples of pessimism that people ignore as they continue to view life optimistically. Because of this natural inclination toward hope, humankind is "stunned" when terrible events unfold. As such, when reality intrudes, people are "overwhelmed" by the events that they are unprepared to accept. Yet in the face of horrific tragedies, people need hope in order to maintain a positive existence. Without hope, despair would overtake people's lives and diminish their ability to happily exist.


Another theme in "Knowledge" highlights the ability of human beings to maintain their basic innocence in the face of terrible tragedy. She devotes the first eight lines of the poem to an extended discussion of this innocence, inserting frequent repetitions of the word "even." "Even when" and "even now" imply that even in the face of so much evidence of humankind's cruelty, people retain an unwarranted innocence with respect to the world. Addonizio indeed uses the word "innocence" to classify this ability to shift focus from horror, from "what people are capable of," to hope, despite the occurrence of tragedies that cannot be rationally justified or understood.


The inclusion of "Knowledge" in Addonizio's collection of poems What Is This Thing Called Love illustrates the complexities of that sentiment. One of love's greatest assets is its ability to endure, even when death or tragedy intervenes. In a way, love cannot exist without fear—fear that the object of that love will be injured or die. In the final lines of "Knowledge," Addonizio focuses on the awareness that...

(The entire section is 737 words.)