Saturday, November 16, 2013

Analysis of "Heights of Folly" by Charles Simic

Original poem reprinted online here: "Heights of Folly" by Charles Simic
Originally read: May 27, 2013
More information about the Poet: Charles Simic





So the title foreshadows a sense of tragedy and a sense of the hyperbole.  Heights of folly relates to the idea of hamartia -- the tragic flaw.  And through the title, the flaw could be an overly naive sense of place.  The first line harkens back to a more naive person, "O Crows circling over my head and cawing!"  Two things of note here, the usage of "O" in the beginning references both the time frame and sense of the naive; furthermore, the seen punctuated with an exclamation brings a sense of importance to the scene -- the crows circling above the head and cawing isn't a great sign.

The first stanza plays with this foreboding doom, "I admit to being, at times, / Suddenly, and without the slightest warning".  The understatement at the end of the line "without the slightest warning" coupled with the stalling words forces the reader to think the last line as a turn.  Why take so long to make the point of being, "Exceedingly happy."  Yes, I know the time frame adds to the naive nature of the speaker, but the second and third line do present that sort of risk that is similar to what the speaker is ignoring.

The next stanza focuses on action -- with being oblivious to the background of, "On a morning otherwise sunless," and "Past some gallows-shaped trees" which have high symbolism of sunless and gallows.  The action is "Strolling arm in arm [...] / With my dear Helen, / Who is also a strange bird."  See, now the focus here is the identity of the speaker who is, I think is Faust. 

Yes the reference could be to Menelaus, Helen's husband, or even Helen's father, Tyndareus, but after rereading this -- there is no absolute identifying figure.  However, the tragedy that is present to the reader, but not present to the speaker seems to follow the storyline of Faust.  Plus the sense that the speaker has a sense of the naive fits with how Faust was in the beginning of the play.

So when we get to the last stanza focuses on future expectation.  Here the speaker is being summoned for "breakfast on slices of watermelon / In the company of naked gods and goddesses / On a patch of last night's snow."  Note, that I didn't mention "urgently" in his actions because the speaker disregards the feeling and focuses on what should be in front of him -- exposed virtues regardless of snow, and crows, and gallows-shaped trees.

Why is the speaker not specifically identified though? He is the every man.  And although I see the speaker as Faust, the reader is not pressured to know who the speaker is in order to "get" the poem.

Tragedy, in theory, should reflect a person's failed experience by means of hamartia.  Everyone has been naive about love one time or another, and ignored the signs in which things could go terribly wrong.  But hindsight is always 20/20.

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