The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Manhattan, 1975,” a narrative poem in free verse, deals with various aspects of city life. The nature of New York life is reflected in the form of the poem; half-lines that begin at the left margin alternate with headless lines that begin where the half-lines that precede them end, giving the poem a broken, fragmented appearance. The traditional stanza form is replaced by five syntactical and semantic units. The title refers to Manhattan in particular, but in its criticism “Manhattan, 1975” describes any city experience.

The poem alternates between the description of street scenes and reflective passages. The first of the five units begins with a hypothetical dialogue, indicated by the conjunction “if” in the first line, between an imaginary female “you” and a male “I.” The topic of the conversation is sexual. The youth of the woman is implied by the freshness of the earth and the upcoming buds, symbolizing the breasts of the young woman. Once fully matured, she will lose her virginity in the city. This thought is expressed by mentioning her hymen and by associating purity, which is her presexual but also pre-Manhattan stage, with the whiteness of buds. While the female “you” is introduced by the mention of her hymen, the first unit of the poem ends with the male “I,” stating his sex in the double entendre of the line “P. S. Nuts to reason.”

Summer is coming, and nature is awakening; so is the girl’s sexuality. The male “I” is excited by her sexual awakening, as is indicated in the line “the tiniest nerve-endings trembling.” At the same time, his feeling is repressed because it is “within its...

(The entire section is 685 words.)