Oral Interpretation of Literature ENGL 4433
12 September 2005
Ferlinghetti Obeys His Own Poem
Poetry can have many purposes, or reasons, for its' creation and production. One such purpose is that of sending a message to an intended audience. Some poets, when sending an intentional message, will do it directly using words that are more denotative in meaning, and some will express themselves more indirectly, using connotative wording, riddled with layered connections, or some combination in between. In this poem, however, "Speak Out!" by famous Beat Poet and painter, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, composed in March of 2003, Ferlinghetti is choosing to send his message in a very direct manner. His images cast indirect blame, but listen to whom he is really speaking to. SPEAK OUT!
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti
And a vast paranoia sweeps across the land 1 And America turns the attack on its Twin Towers 2 Into the beginning of the Third World War 3 The war with the Third World 4
And the terrorists in Washington 5 Are shipping out the young men 6 To the killing fields again 7
And no one speaks 8
And they are rousting out 9 All the ones with turbans 10 And they are flushing out 11 All the strange immigrants 12
And they are shipping all the young men 13 To the killing fields again 14
And no one speaks 15
And when they come to round up 16 All the great writers and poets and painters 17 The National Endowment of the Arts of Complacency 18 Will not speak 19
While all the young men 20 Will be killing all the young men 21 In the killing fields again 22
So now is the time for you to speak 23 All you lovers of liberty 24 All you lovers of the pursuit of happiness 25 All you lovers and sleepers 26 Deep in your private dream 27 Now is the time for you to speak 28 O silent majority 29 Before they come for you! 30
Being 85 yrs old and having served in WW II as a ship's commander, Lawrence Ferlinghetti has experienced war first hand and as a result of expressing his opinions through poetry he became known as a poet in the beat generation "beats were the anarchists in a time of general post-war conformism". Written in reaction to the newly declared war in Iraq, it is true that Ferlinghetti was very frustrated with the government's choice to go to war with Iraq. However, it is not the leaders of the U.S. Government whom Ferlinghetti is addressing these challenging words to, though he refers to them rather dramatically as "the terrorists in Washington" (line 5). No, this poem doesn't speak to those ultimately responsible for declaring the war, nor does it speak to his fellow writers and artists in his field who he insults by calling them members of the "National Endowment of the Arts of Complacency" (line 12) for not speaking up. I think it also important to note that while this message speaks most directly of those young men in the armed forces, the ones "rousting" and "flushing out" the turban-wearing immigrants, he is not speaking to them. He is speaking to us: the readers and listeners. He is following his own advice and speaking out to anyone who doesn't whole-heartedly believe that we should be "shipping off all the young men to the killing fields again" (line 7 & 14) and calling us to do exactly what he is doing: to Speak Out!
One year and one day after the memorable September 11th attacks in 2001, President Bush addresses the United Nation in a speech challenging the UN to take action against Iraq, threatening that if they do not, the United States will. Four days before Christmas in 2002, the President deployed troops into the Gulf and by March 19, 2003 President Bush declares war on Iraq. The definition of war by Merriam-Webster's online dictionary is: a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations. President Bush announced this war against a people group, though in actuality just attacking a single nation, and this "Democracy", the citizens of the United States of America, having the all the freedom of speech, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the world has just sat by and done nothing about it. Poll after poll has shown a nearly 50-50 pull for and against the war even up until even today, and yet, the number of people saying or doing anything about they're disagreement is minuscule.
Some key plays on words here are found in the beginning, in lines 3 and 4: "Third World War . . .the war with the Third World". He uses terms all of us are familiar with, WW III having a connotation of fear and Third World having a connotation of pity. This coupling awakens the listener.
"The terrorists in Washington" in line 5 is a complete mockery because it is always from Washington that we hear this term used in reference to our opponents. The images of "rousting out" which means to drive-as if from bed- roughly or unceremoniously and "flushing out" all the "strange (turban wearing) immigrants" lines 9 12 paint a picture of big bad Americans standing above a toilet bowl of water, and gently pushing the lever down, drowning the little people in an unfair sadistic death. It is through his particular wording of "all the strange' immigrants" that the reader can possibly relate his own inner feelings that indeed, immigrants do seem at least at first, strange. He allows the reader to relate, yet immediately shifts the perspective back to "they" in this case the government- who are just shipping out all of our young men to the killing fields again. Two words stand out very strong here: young and again. Of course, more than young men are fighting, killing, and dying, but the word that evokes the most emotion probably because it conjures up the most vivid image of a young, fresh-faced, handsome man with great potential. In the next line he tact's on the word again, implying that this is just a repeat of something that looks the same and equally served no purpose. Here, I believe he is speaking of Vietnam. He continues to state his point and beckon us, the reader to do something about what we believe. He states, I think more in comparison with the past war of Vietnam and all the protests that happened then, that no one is speaking or protesting, and warns that if we don't soon, "they" will come for us too.
I found this poem to have universality because any American citizen alive today could hear this poem and listen to Ferlinghetti's point of speaking up, and even, I would venture to say, would agree with him. We have the right to speak in America, and almost all of our decisions in this country are made because of what and how we speak (or write), and often times we chose not to speak just because we can. I believe Lawrence isn't just asking us to speak, complain, or riot. I believe he's asking us to rally together, stop being so complacent and spend at least some of our time on the things that are important to our country as a whole. He is concerned about our future and he is doing something about it. Though his perspective is indeed to put an end to the war and get our troops out of Iraq, he is speaking universally to people. I bet he would even be pleased to know that as a result of reading this poem, that some "die-hard" Republican raised even more support for the war because he "spoke out".
This is definitely a suggestive poem and he manages to lyrically express his individual bias through his lines, while still not tainting his message. I really appreciate this about his writing. I had never read anything by Ferlinghetti, but now, I find a present day- 87-year-old man who is going strong after his hearts passions. He is using his gifts, inspiring others, and making a difference.
Gura, Timothy, and Charlotte Lee. Oral Interpretation. 11thth ed. Boston: Patricia A. Coryell, 2005. 49-53.
"Definition of the word "war"" Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2005. 15 Sept. 2005 .
"Ferlinghetti's recent poems." Speak Out! Mar. 2003. City Lites Books. 05 Sept. 2005 . Barolini, Helen. "Lawrence Ferlinghetti." 24 Aug. 2005 < http://college.hmco.com/english/heath/syllabuild/iguide/ferlingh.html >. "-beats were the anarchists in a time of general post-war