“In Goya’s Greatest Scenes We Seem to See” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
In this paper I will be exploring the social criticism that is conveyed by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in his poem “In Goya’s Greatest Scenes We Seem to See.” Ferlinghetti criticizes the industrial revolution in America; he compares its outcomes with war. Ferlinghetti alludes to various paintings by Goya that depict war, and links their interpretation to the industrialization in America. The poem contains various poetic elements such as alliteration, hyperbole and Ekpharsis all reinforce his rhetoric. Being a painter as well as a poet contributes to Ferlinghetti’s brilliant mixing of art and poetry, the poem’s appearance has a strong visual effect, one that transports the notion of war and chaos through its form. I will demonstrate Ferlinghetti’s use of alliteration, hyperbole and Ekpharsis, as a means to criticize the industrialization in America. The socio historical context of this poem is the economic growth that the American society has experienced during the 1950’s, also known as “the golden age of capitalism.” Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a part of the “Beat Generation,” a group of poets that among other things were known for their criticism of capitalism and rejection of materialism. The poem was published in Ferlinghetti’s book titled “A Coney Island of the Mind” in 1958. It is written in an open form and lacks clear rhymes and structure; it follows the rhythm of natural speech. I will refer to the poem by lines, and as having two sections: the first discusses art, and the second discusses American society and highways. The speaker addressee relation in the poem is from one scholar to another. Ferlinghetti’s language as well as his reference to art indicates that the poem targets educated people, possibly his fellow poets. In this poem Ferlinghetti fuses two periods, the peninsular war as it was depicted by Goya, and the industrialization in the 1950’s. In the first section and lines, Ferlinghetti describes the pain and suffering that is inflicted on humanity using Ekpharsis, he refers to art and dramatically portrays its meaning, which later he links to industrialization. “In Goya’s greatest scenes we seem to see/ the people of the world” (lines1-2) The alliteration in the first sentence draws attention specifically to Goya’s paintings, combined with the plural ‘we,’ can be seen as referring to fellow scholars, like him, they are able to interpret Goya’s paintings. These lines contain a hyperbolic exaggeration; Ferlinghetti generalizes the people of the world, as all being portrayed in a particular painting. All the people in the world could never be depicted in a single painting. The use of hyperbole draws attention to Ferlinghetti’s interpretation of that particular moment, as if people from the 1950’s are depicted in it. He continues to portray “[the exact] moment when/ they first attained the title of /”suffering humanity” (lines3-5). Ferlinghetti refers to a particular moment that depicts collective suffering; however the specific moment of reaching the title of “suffering humanity” (line 5) cannot be determined. Ferlinghetti personifies the painted “suffering humanity” (line 5) they “writhe upon the page,” (line 9) as if twisting in pain in the painting. All these instances of hyperbole portray horrors of war as if they become alive today, at the climax of the industrialization. Ferlinghetti uses hyperbolic descriptions to dramatize and attract attention to the circumstances in the paintings; he links the outcomes of past war, to the present-day industrialization. Ferlinghetti reference to particular paintings is in order to connect the depicted war to industrialization. It is evident through the “suffering humanity,” (line 5) and specific elements such as “groaning with babies and bayonets/under cement skies” (line10-11). These images allude to a series of painting by Goya called “The Disasters of war,” that depict realistic images of...
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