Hart has degrees in literature and creative writing. In this essay, she explores the title’s meaning in Barbarese’s poem.
J. T. Barbarese’s poem “Walk Your Body Down” offers clear images of city life that include a couple arguing, a baby singing, crowded living conditions typical of urban living, and a sense of isolation felt by individuals in the midst of city crowds. There is little abstraction in the images, and the meanings or connotations are rather easily grasped. However, the title of the poem, as well as its message, is a little more difficult to understand. Just what exactly does the narrator mean by the recommendation to “walk your body down?” How does one do it? And is there anything in the poem itself that helps the reader answer these questions and understand the meaning of the title?
The man is talking to the people around him through his actions. He is the bearer of the message, and the message, according to this poem, is that people need to stay at home in their bodies and live their experiences through their bodies.
There is no way for a reader to know what the title means as the poem begins. After all, “walking one’s body down” could refer to something negative, such as wearing one’s body out until it falls down. In the second line of the poem, there is mention of breaking up, which could also be a reference to running something down until it no longer works. So at the beginning of the poem, there is no clue offered as to whether the title refers to something good or something bad.
In the first stanza, the narrator also offers a distressed baby that is sitting on a ramp, neither here nor there, alone and seemingly unprotected. Included with the arguing couple, the opening images, so far, suggest a breakdown of some kind, either in relationships, communications, or emotions. But when the narrator focuses attention on the middle-aged man something positive occurs. Here, the reader can grasp that this man and his way of walking, as well as the title, are meant to contradict the negative energy of the scene. The way the man walks down the center of the street ties him to the title, and readers can assume that the man is also connected to the meaning or message of the poem. The man in the street probably conveys what the title means.
This middle-aged man is described as self-contained and aloof, and no one cares about him. The narrator describes this man as he sees him, of course, through the lens of his own projections. Immediately the narrator relates to him, recognizing something familiar in the way the man moves and acts. It is interesting to note that the motion of the poem changes at the end of the first stanza. Here, the narrator distinguishes this man from the crowd, separating him from the city scene and from the narrator himself. Despite the fact that he identifies with the man, the...
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