“Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg”
A Story of Depression or Renewed Hope?
The poem “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg” by Richard Hugo utilizes many effective poetic techniques. Of these, color seems to play a dominant role.
Hugo tells us the story of a man, who on a whim, decides to go back to his hometown to visit. When he gets there it isn’t as he remembered. The town is now run down and poor because the need for silver isn’t what it once was. As he drives down the streets he remembers what a wonderful place it once was when the economy there was good. Now all he sees are the remains of a nearly forgotten town.
Before we get to the body of the poem we must focus on the title, “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg.” Color is already playing a role. What is gray? It varies, it can be a bright shiny color like silver, or the light wispy color of gray found in fog. It can also be a dark, dirty color, nearly black like charcoal. At initial glance we get the feeling this is going to be a dark and depressed poem, which for the most part it is.
Color isn’t really mentioned in the first stanza but in the second Hugo writes, “Hatred of the various grays/ the mountain sends, hatred of the mill, / The Silver Bill repeal”. Color is so powerful here as the narrator tells us of the hatred people have developed towards that which once made them so happy. All of the rock that was mined from the mountains was assumedly many different colors of gray. Heaps of it had to be mined just to get small amounts of the precious silver out of it. There is hatred toward the old mill. Although no color is mentioned as you read the poem you can picture an old, dark, abandoned mill, probably brown, weathered wood with little or no paint on it, and inside, no lights on for sure.
Later in the second stanza Hugo mentions a new color. The once black and white movie picture we had going in our heads now has a splash of green in it. Hugo writes “in panoramic green you know the...
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