Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s father died before he was born, and his mother was placed in an insane asylum. He was left to be cared for by relatives, and eventually foster parents. Lawrence was ten years old when the stock market crashed October of 1929, which led to the Great Depression. He was twenty when World War II began in September of 1939. Serving as a Lieutenant Commander of the Navy during the war eventually exposed him to the traumatic effects of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.
He explained how anyone who was able to witness the aftermath “would suddenly realize that they’d been kept in the dark by the United States government as to what atomic bombs can do. ” (nndb. com) This event changed Ferlinghetti. He became one of the key people of the Beat movement. The Beat poets “rebelled against what they saw as their country’s social conformity, political repression, and prevailing materialism” (868, Ann Charters). His City Lights bookshop “was an early gathering place of the Beats, and the publishing arm of City Lights was the first to print the Beats’ books of poetry” (biography. om). Although he was not always recognized as a core member of the young group of poets, his poems often contained remarks that had the potential to transform other peoples’ views. Through three of his poems, he influenced change by protesting the repression in society, the violence in war, and the injustices of the United States Government.
Ferlinghetti finds popular culture unsettling, and expresses his view of society in his poem, “The World is a Beautiful Place”. He hopes that people will recognize what they have become, and long for individuality and change. Our Name Brand society / is prey to / [its] men of distinction” refers to how our society is constantly trying to keep up with the latest trends and what is popular at the moment. And the men of distinction are the ring-leaders in a sense; they are the advertisers, the market researchers, and often the trend setters. They quickly learn what to market, how to market, and who to market to. Most people are afraid to step out of the box in fear that they would not be accepted by the majority, and be left on the outskirts of mainstream society.Thus, the “Name Brand” society can be viewed as being a slave to the “Men of distinction”, and unable to break away. He goes on to show his disapproval of pop culture in another poem titled “I Am Waiting”. He writes, “I am waiting / to see God on television / piped onto church altars / if only they can find / the right channel / to tune in on. ” Society today is heavily influenced by mass media and advertisements. Ferlinghetti realizes that America no longer contains the core Christian values that the country was built upon, because all their energy has been absorbed by advertisers, trends, and constant consumerism.
The mention of how people would not even be able to find the right channel if God were on television means that he believes society is too deeply absorbed into popular culture that it would be almost impossible to break away at this point. He challenges society to change their ways. The capitalization of the word “God” is used in syntax. “Lowercasing God” in certain cases can be seen as “An attempt to obscure the reference to God” (ncsu. edu). Ferlinghetti chooses to capitalize God because of the context in which he uses the word.
He tries to allude to the Christian faith, because of the fact that this country was established as one nation under God. If he had not capitalized the word, the meaning may have been lost. Additionally, war is something that Ferlinghetti speaks out against often in his poems, especially after witnessing its devastating power first-hand. In “I am waiting”, Ferlinghetti is “Waiting / for the Age of Anxiety / to drop dead”. The words “Age” and “Anxiety” are capitalized because he makes a reference to another poem.
The Age of Anxiety is an eclogue by Wystan Hugh Auden that captures the imagination of the cultural moment during World War II, and is about a man’s quest to find his identity in the middle of it all (press. princeton. edu). Ferlinghetti refers to that man’s concern of not being able to find his identity. He realizes that in a war-torn world, full of violence and injustice, it is difficult to find self-identity because people are expected to focus on their country, rather than themselves; Ferlinghetti feels there is no use in trying to find something that he strongly believes no longer exists.
Thus he is waiting for it to drop dead. “The world is a beautiful place/ to be born into/ if you don’t mind some people dying/ all the time” is a stanza from “The World is a Beautiful Place”. Being a Commander during World War II, he witnessed the destruction the war caused. He saw people get killed, and injured constantly. Ferlinghetti gained the courage to speak out against war, which influenced change; he set an example to others by being the change. In the preceding excerpt from “The World is a Beautiful Place”, Ferlinghetti not only juxtaposes beauty with death, but also birth with death.
This creates a more powerful contrast to the word death, which is a direct result of the war he refers to in the stanza. Irony is a central theme in the poem. The title “The World is a Beautiful Place” is ironic because the majority of the poem portrays the world as a place full of negative experiences and tragedies. Also, Ferlinghetti separates the words “All the time” on its own line, allowing readers to easily understand that the poet is trying to stress that people are constantly surrounded by death when in war, which is another reason he calls for an end to it.
In “A Tentative Description of a Dinner to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower”, Ferlinghetti shows his disapproval for not only President Eisenhower, but for all US Presidents that came after Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harry S. Truman, who took Roosevelt’s place after his death in 1945, was known for corruption. He ignored scientists’ warnings of how the radiation from the atomic bombs in Japan would cause severe health and environmental issues for generations.
Also, republicans claimed that he “condoned and covertly supported corruption among members of the White House staff and within government departments” throughout his presidency (presidentprofiles. com). President Eisenhower was in office when the United States became more seriously involved with the Vietnam War, which is often remembered as one of the most controversial wars in US history. At the end of the poem, Ferlinghetti writes “After every soul was seated / and waited for the symbolic mushroom cloud soup to be served / and keynote speeches to begin / the president himself came in / and said / we resign”.
The mushroom cloud is a direct reference to the mushroom cloud that resulted from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, which Ferlinghetti saw the aftermath of. By placing the fictional storyline in this order, he proposes an alternative sequence of events; Instead of announcing that the bombs were going to be dropped, President Truman should have stepped back from the plan and figured out a better solution, especially since official surveys soon after World War II ended proved “the atomic bombs were unnecessary” (nytimes. com).
Ferlinghetti wanted more Americans to notice what is regularly overlooked by most. By calling out these Presidents in his poem, he caused change by making people take more note of the Government’s wrongdoing. In the same poem, Ferlinghetti writes about how “No invitations had to be sent out / for the great testimonial dinner / except to politicians / whose respected names wouldn’t lend weight / to the projects / but who did not come anyway. ” He refers to how politicians in general often avoid answering questions, or fail to give clear responses to questions that the public may have.
Even when given the opportunity to justify their actions or claims, politicians have a tendency to avoid doing so, in fear of causing any sort of conflict. The poem “A Tentative Description of a Dinner to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower” has literary elements that play an important part in the meaning of the text. The title is tentative because the story is not true, but the message can be easily interpreted offensive or vulgar. The poem was written in 1958, while President Eisenhower was still in office.
He may have been hesitant to put out a poem that mentioned impeaching the current President. The syntax that Ferlinghetti chose to use for certain parts of the poem allows the reader to imagine the setting more clearly. The imagery of the poem makes the reader feel as though he or she is in the room, sitting at the table, and waiting for their meal, which makes the story that much more believable. Ferlinghetti also uses repetition of the phrase “except peace”. He uses those words to promote peace, and to show how peace could have been a more sensible choice as opposed to turning to the bombs to end the war.
Its repetition shows that Ferlinghetti sees peace as the answer to most issues. The word “except” could also be interpreted as “accept”. Because he is a pacifist, he encourages people to accept the idea of peace, rather than to turn the the fastest solution, as President Truman did when he ordered the bombs to be dropped. Evidently, Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born into an era where change was needed. The aftermath of World War II had greatly influenced him as a writer, and encouraged him speak out against what he saw in mainstream society, war, and the Government through his writing.
He clearly had a lasting social impact. His poem “A Tentative Description of a Dinner to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower” was so influential, it “Inspired Lorenzo Milan [An American writer and activist] to begin building community radio stations” (youtube. com), which allows people to speak their minds as Ferlinghetti so often did. Ferlinghetti is now 92, and amazingly “still writes and works in his City Lights bookstore, which is still at the same location, and still publishes affordable paperbacks by struggling authors” (nndb. com).
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