Comment 1 of 65, added on February 6th, 2006 at 9:53 PM.
Ferlinghetti records for the reader an account of his observations at some
undisclosed point in time. The poet describes the sounds he hears while
“lay[ing] in the sands”. The sounds start off soft and subtle, and
gradually build to universal proportions, through the use of increasingly
descriptive language and to-be-defined linguistic methods.
Ferlinghetti places the reader in the scene in line one. We find an image
of a man [assuming the reader knows the author is male] prone on the sand
of the shores of some body of water. We learn that he has been there “long
long” and, after more reading, infer that he has been paying close
attention to the sounds he hears with his ear to the sand. The poet
relates the sound of the surf to the sound of trains in subways. Here the
reader imagines the man with his ear to the ground, hearing a naturalistic
subterranean rumble akin to the din of rumbling underground transportation.
The relation is unsettling, perhaps. When one thinks of the ocean, one
often remembers relaxing feelings in an expansive setting accompanied by
the soothing growl of the sea. On the other hand, one is likely to
associate subways with congestion, clanging mechanics, and urban sprawl.
This dichotomy only serves to aid the poet in convincing his audience that
ambient noise, which is often tuned out, is quite raucous and [I’d even go
as far as to say] foreboding.
Hidden deeper beneath the readily obtainable sound of the ocean can be
found “an even greater undersound of a vast confusion in the universe”. It
is an ambitious claim. When Ferlinghetti uses the simile of an “enormous
creature turning under sea and earth”, the reader is presented with the
vivid imagery of the beastification [if I may coin a rather ridiculous
phrase] of all the rumbling confusion in the universe. Every atomic
vibration, particle collision, sound wave, business lunch, tree felling,
all instances of life are presented as a roaring creature tumbling
underneath tons and miles of rock and brine.
As Ferlinghetti continues, he describes the sound as “swelling”, which
helps to clue the reader that this chaos is building, and amplified by
“ocean’s speakers”. He quickly reminds the reader on the next line that he
is a man, with his “ear to sand”, internalizing and verbalizing the
experience. The next lines present “a shocked echoing a shocking
shouting”. These lines take the same form as previous lines, which helped
to build the volume and chaos. Here though, the form is repeated with the
intention of signaling the climax of the action. It is “a shocking
shouting of all life’s voices lost in night”. This is quite an emotionally
charged metaphor. It is followed by a line beginning with a capital
letter, which helps to punctuate and show that the line before has some
sort of finality to it. It seems that all of the sounds we “hear” in the
poem are parts of this “life’s voices”.
In the closing lines, Ferlinghetti experiences all of the sound in
reverse, all the bundled mess unraveling until it returns to it’s original
constituent parts, the “first harmonies”. In my opinion, this is the most
impacting part of the work. The idea that all of the confusion and “sound”
in the universe is traceable in reverse to original harmony is quite a
beautiful [and scientifically poignant] concept.
All of the intense imagery in the poem works in tandem with subtle and
effective rhythm and rhyme/alliteration techniques. Alliteration
[long/lay, sand/sounds/surf/ subways/sea, rumbling/roaring,
shocked/shocking/shouting] works to drive the interest of the reader and
counterpoint the free-verse style. The few rhymes really help to emphasize
certain key elements [lost in night, the first light. Muttering,
stuttering], as well as cooperate with alliteration in the effort to place
rhythmic devices in certain [ultra-descriptive] regions, while leaving
other parts to a more colloquial, informative pace, free of poetry’s
profusely used pesky patterns.