American Literature; the United States, by C. K. Williams
Question: What message does the poet want to deliver and how does he use poetic devices to achieve that?
Analysis of the poem
Literal meaning of the poem
The poem begins with a description of the United States’ is rusting and decomposing hulk that floats throughout Ikea and Philadelphia. Besides, the narrator talks about the tremendous experience he gained while going to Europe, particularly France. The narrator had been told that the ship is the fastest thing that was floating on water. However, this seems to be contradictory as the tourists were allowed in a tiny deck, and the ship was lifted by tiny waves tossing its occupants left and right until some of them were thrown out into the deep waters. This illustration was used to show that despite its large size, the ship was not entirely safe for its occupants. The interpretation of this symbol is that the United States as a country was not safe enough for its citizens. Moreover, such conditions violated the natural law of the statement that they were the fastest thing afloat.
When the narrator arrived at Le Havre, everything seemed disarranged. Europe, surprisingly, looked small. Besides, a swarm of tugs nudged them like piglets. What remained of their once mighty ship after the storm was a somnolent carcass, cables, and “discolored paint of blood”. The ship would have to be auctioned or stripped of anything useful left in it before towered and burnt to pieces in Bangladesh beach. In the meantime, as the ship was awaiting its fate, other activities seemed to be operated in a normal way, with traffic at Whitman Bridge humming past the grave of Whitman (Stein 15).
Theme of the poem
The poem The United States is a lyrical geographical representation of global, national and local contemporary mesh of nationhood with the past identity of the nation depicted as the one decaying away (Reaske 12). Ikea in the United States and municipal represent the international, national, and local levels in the poem. The past identity of the nation is shown in the poem by “Philadelphia” and “Columbus Boulevard”. These are four lines that have been composed for serving an example. The narrator shows the relationship of his experience in the United States with that in Europe. When from the United States he ran to France, he was told that it was the fastest thing afloat, and that the post war relationship in the United States was brilliant. His experience in Europe, on the other hand, is marked by its strikingly small sizes.
In his poem, C. K. William was not only showing a monolith that has refused to change, but he was also illustrating the uncertainties and complexities that characterize an identity as well as the changes every identity must experience with time. The poet emphasized it by using phrases such as “to be auctioned I suppose”; “seemed a violation of some natural law”; “mostly derelict docks”; “Europe looked small”; “that first time I ran away to France.” C. K. William turns Whitman, a famous poet known for inclusion and individuality, to exclusion and conformity in a dramatic twist. The poet did this in the line “past his grave” with the purpose to bring the sense of geographic location as well as to stress over Whitman’s deceased body.
The general message that the poet tried to convey is that there is no perfect place in the world. The narrator used words such as “decomposing” and “derelict” while describing the United States and Philadelphia respectively. While being in France, which is representative of Europe, the narrator complained about the large mass of people trying to relocate from America regardless of France’s small size. Nevertheless, in Bangladesh in Asia, the ship, which also represented its occupants was not any better than on the aforementioned territories.
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- Alliteration: derelict docks; five flights; we were; tiny tugs; carcass, cables; lashed like Lilliputian leashes; pure paint; beach in Bangladesh.
- Imagery: “That such a monster could be lifted by mere waves.” Another example of imagery is when the narrator writes about the bridge which he referred to as Whitman hums. In addition, the decomposing large ship was used to signify the dilapidation of the United States.
- Personification: “factories crouch for miles beneath the interstate”; “the ship is a somnolent carcass’’; “bridge named after Whitman hums with traffic”; “mighty flagship waits here.”
- Parallel constructions: “I forgotten…”; “I can imagine…”; “I shared that…”; “I ran away…”; “I suppose…”; “we were told…”; “we surely….”; “we vomited…”; “we were out.”
- Hyperbole: “somnolent carcass’’; “paint discoloring to blood.”
- Enjambment: “America’s mighty flagship’ waits here’’; “to be auctioned I suppose’’; “stripped of anything it might still have of worth’’; “and towed away and torched to pieces on a beach in Bangladesh.’’
- Onomatopoeia: “cables lashed like Lilliputian leashes’’; “beach in Bangladesh.’’
- Simile: “tiny tugs nudged like piglets’’; “cables lashed like Lilliputian leashes.”
- Metaphor: “The rusting, decomposing hulk of the United States”; the ship is described as “That such a monster could be lifted…” and “somnolent carcass”; “paint discoloring to blood.”
- Irony and oxymoron: “We were told we were the fastest thing afloat, and we surely were; even from the tiny deck where passengers from tourist were allowed.”
Other features of the poem
The United States is a lyrical poem as it describes chronological order of events and reflections, and does not tell a story (Hunt 20). Its narrator is definitely male and, it is C. K. William himself because there is no direct link to any other person in the poem. The mood of this poem is gloomy and reflective. Rhyme scheme: AAAA, BBCA, CDAA, AACC, BBAC, DACA, BABA, BBAD.
Symbolism is the intentional use of symbols or objects to express the poet’s idea. The effectiveness of symbolism as a poetic device is dependent upon the accuracy of comparison intended by the author. In this poem, the image of the ship is used symbolically to refer to the occupants along with the tourists, rather than the physical vessel. Besides, the ship may also represent the world in general with all its ebbs and flows. To address the ship, the poet uses such metaphors as “hulk” and “monster” intended to create in the mind of the readers vivid the image of the ship and its impressive size.
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In conclusion, C.K Williams described his journey across the United States, Europe and Asia aboard a large ship. The poet depicted the ship and its journey from being one of the largest to ever float over water to its degradation along the beaches of Bangladesh. He used several figures of speech which effectively enable the reader to create a mental picture and imagine how the occupants perceived the journey aboard this ship. The narrator was able to show that all parts of the world from the United States to Asia have many problematic issues that need to be dealt with. I believe that the poet in his work intended and managed to highlight the particular issues that affect the citizens of the modern world, specifically insecurity, poverty and terrorism.