Analysis of Practice Poem Wrong Number

Analysis of Practice Poem Wrong Number - Wrong Number by...

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Unformatted text preview: Wrong Number by Wisława Szymborska At midnight, in an empty, hushed art gallery a tactless telephone spews forth a stream of rings; a human sleeping now would jump up instantly, but only sleepless prophets and untiring kings reside here, where the moonlight makes them pale; they hold their breath, their eyes fixed on some nail or crack; only the young pawnbroker’s bride seems taken by that odd, ringing contraption, but even she won’t lay her fan aside, she too just hangs there, caught in mid ­nonaction. Above it all, in scarlet robes or nude, they view nocturnal fuss as simply rude. Here’s more black humor worthy of the name then if some grand duke leaned out from his frame and vented his frustration with a vulgar curse. And if some silly man calling from town refuses to give up, put the receiver down, though he’s got the wrong number? He lives, so he errs. Analysis Art in general, specifically the paintings in the poem “Wrong Number,” is portrayed as perfection, contrasted figuratively and literally with the only human character of the poem, who is represented by the persistently ringing telephone. In the poem, Nobel Prize winning poet Wisława Szymborska uses figurative language, diction and mechanics to demonstrate the superiority of highly perfected art to flawed living beings. Although they scoff at the flaws of the human, the paintings are only “perfect” because they are not alive and cannot err. The concept of human error is introduced in the title of the poem, “Wrong Number,” denoting a mistake made by a human while dialing or finding a telephone number. The reader is aware of the ringing of the telephone, caused by the errant human finger of “a man calling from town” throughout the poem. The objets d’art which occupy the “empty, hushed art gallery” cannot, or refuse to, answer the phone and end the “stream of rings” “spewed forth” from the “tactless telephone.” The subjects of the paintings are personified, as though they could move at any time, but choose the life of stilled perfection. The human character is absent, represented only by the inhuman — the telephone which he caused to ring. Even the telephone, which symbolizes the only human character, is flawed. It is “tactless,” “simply rude,” and later even “silly.” The diction used to describe the phone conveys the paintings’ haughty, impatient tone toward the flaws of the human’s symbol, and therefore the human. The paintings are captured moments of perfection. The “sleepless prophets and untiring kings [which] reside here” are in a state superior to man’s. Although humans may move about freely, this freedom gives them license to make mistakes — which they always do. The paintings, on the other hand, do not and cannot. “They hold their breath, their eyes fixed on some nail / or crack . . . they view nocturnal fuss as simply rude.” “Caught in mid ­nonaction,” the unerring paintings’ subjects are personified here and throughout the poem as possessing a condescending attitude towards humans and their fallibility. In addition to these obvious contrasts, color or light imagery is also used to contrast the living with the paintings. The telephone rings “at midnight,” when the human world is dark, but the paintings’ gallery is lit by moonlight which “makes them pale” — or lighter and whiter, white being the color usually used to represent purity. “Black humor” is used to describe a ridiculous reversal of the perfection of the paintings, “some grand duke leaned out from his frame / and vented his frustration with a vulgar curse.” This reversal in reality is paralleled by a reversal of the color symbol used to represent the purity of the painting of the grand duke. The black humor symbolizes how dark it would be if the grand duke left the realm of perfected art to sink to the level of humans — tainting his pale, pure image. The theme of art as perfection extends beyond the subject of the poem to the poem itself as an object of art. A steady rhyme scheme of ABABCCDEDEFFGGHIIH holds with perfection of the art of poetry — rhyme and the essential elements of repetition and change. The rhythm is always iambic, with either five or six feet per line. The one exception to this rhythm is found in the lines ending with the sound labeled as E, lines 8 and 10. If scanned with an iambic foot, these lines end in the middle of the foot, with an unstressed syllable. Though this poem is a work of art, and therefore must be perfect in some sense, it is still a work created by a flawed human. Although the two lines are the only exception to the perfect iambic meter, it is clear that art cannot be completely perfect and above criticism because it was created by an imperfect being. The imperfection of the paintings is not in the art or portrayals themselves, but in the character they personify within the poem. Yes, perfection is a worthy goal for which even the “man calling from town” who “refuses to give up, put the receiver down” should strive, but these paintings are only art forms. They decline the apparent opportunity to become human and take part in the human experience. The only way one can truly obtain perfection is by learning through past mistakes, and action, not judging solely on and simply observing the mistakes of others. The condescending attitude of the paintings is not as sure as they would like it to seem. They, too, know that humans have the advantage of experience which the subjects of the paintings will never obtain. Unable to change this circumstance, they continue to live their stilled, perfected anti ­lives, portraying their way of existence as better than that of humans. But the reader, through the poet’s insight and subtleties of language, may infer the complete picture. The paintings “believe” that they are perfect and purified versions of humans, but even the paintings know that they are only perfect because they do not have the ability to act. Rather than true perfection, the paintings have achieved a state of “mid ­ nonaction,” which only prevents them from erring as humans do. But it is through their errors that the humans achieve true perfection. The paintings know this and choose to scoff at humans’ imperfections rather than envy the humans’ capacity to become truly perfect. All of the technical and literary aspects of the poem are integrated into this theme, from the rhyme scheme to the imagery and color symbolism. The theme that is conveyed through the poem itself is the irony in the perfection of art. The ultimate irony in the assumption that art is or can be perfect, as even the subjects of the paintings assume, is that art is the product of imperfect humans, with whom we compare the art. Even the meter in the poem supports this theme. Imperfect humans cannot create an absolutely perfect work of art. Although the paintings want to believe that they are superior to humans, the paintings do not have the capacity to become perfect as humans do. Caught in their “state of mid ­ nonaction,” the paintings choose to scoff at humans’ imperfections, electing for a non ­life instead of a flawed one. Yet even the paintings know that the human’s ability to truly live, even though that will certainly entail mistakes, is superior to the paintings’ state of simulated perfection. ...
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