Long long I lay in the sands

Sounds of trains in the surf
in subways of the sea
And an even greater undersound
of a vast confusion in the universe
a rumbling and a roaring
as of some enormous creature turning
under sea and earth
a billion sotto voices murmuring
a vast muttering
a swelling stuttering
in ocean’s speakers
world’s voice-box heard with ear to sand
a shocked echoing
a shocking shouting
of all life’s voices lost in night
And the tape of it
someow running backwards now
through the Moog Synthesizer of time
Chaos unscrambled
back to the first
And the first light

Analysis, meaning and summary of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poem A Vast Confusion


  1. Vinney says:

    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.

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