Benwit Period 6
People oftentimes find themselves with a yearning to escape from the harsh realities of the world. Those filled with regret of the past and discontent with modern times desire to escape from the real world and its pressures, much like the speaker in Ted Berrigan’s “Red Shift.” Berrigan’s use of dreamlike, surreal diction, along with the seemingly staccato verses conveys the image of the speaker’s hectic thoughts and ultimately his inner calmness.
The beginning of the poem has a defined sense of time with the speaker stating that it is It is February and the “air is biting” out in “winter streetscape,” establishing a realistic setting and providing a chilling mood through the common association of winter and depression. After he “leans/ In,” possibly into trancelike state, he still constantly describes his real world surroundings despite detaching himself from the real world. It is clearly stated that he is in
The speaker reminisces on his unfading memories from nearly twenty years ago and now clearly recalls them with a scornful tone. Although he mentions “love, children, hundreds of them, money, marriage-/ ethics, a politics of grace,” all of which seem to be joys of life, they are “up in the air, swirling, burning even still, now/ more than ever before,” suggesting to the reader that even such pleasures in life are in disarray in his mind. The rhythm of the verses get lengthier as the poem continues and the breaks get less abrupt. Berrigan uses images to describe the speaker’s influences and emotions such as burning and disappearing into air to give him an angrier tone as if to resent his past. The speaker intensely and passionately rushes through his past experiences throughout the poem’s extended verses. By the end of the poem, he gains a bizarre burst of self-confidence stating that he “will never die, [he] will live/ To be 110” and that he is “only pronouns, & [he is] all of them.” Berrigan possibly implies that the stress of depressing winter nights and bitter memories of what the speaker once was drives him to the brink of dillusion, to the point where he believes that the “world’s furious song flows through his costume.” The speaker plainly shows his view on the world, that it is furious and unrelenting. The reader can also infer that, in the speaker’s mind, he is unhindered by reality and his mental world is the only place where he can obtain his much desired peace of mind.
The speaker is in no way considered, by society’s standards, emotionally healthy at first glance. However, through Berrigan’s appropriate word choice, vocabulary, complex imagery, and increasing verse length, the speaker is full of passion and resides as a god of sorts in the safety of his mind.
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