Analyze Poems by Linda Pastan and One Poem by Larry Levis

The world appears to be a beautiful place when one looks at it through the prism of detachment. However, in a case when one’s feelings are touched, and an individual is supposed to get a closer look, the world turns into a collage of broken dreams, broken hearts, and mistakes, which are glued together by minor joys and small pieces of happiness. The current paper will compare, contrast, and analyze two poems by Linda Pastan and one poem by Larry Levis, showing the themes of life, death, and happiness.

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The poem created by Linda Pastan “I Am Learning to Abandon the World” portrays the process of the loss acceptance depicted with the entire course of life. One of the main themes denotes that life is capable of provisionally defeating death at the same time being so good that it is not worth giving up. Thus, the poem symbolically starts with the words: “I am learning to abandon the world / before it can abandon me.” (Pastan 1-2), revealing a constant necessity to compete with the world that incessantly changes while gains and losses are integral parts of the life itself. This fight with life is further explained by the words: “And the world has taken / my father, my friends.” (Pastan 6-7). In fact, these words can be dubiously understood, as, on the one hand, it implies that her friends and father have died while on the other hand, it might practically mean that they are no longer estranged. This concept and idea of losing family and friends symbolize the deprivation that any person will inevitably experience through the course of life.

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The author touches on a highly important topic of the complicacy of living and accepting the loss at the same time moving on with life, especially after losing somebody as close as parents or friends. The following lines: “And every night I give my body up / limb by limb, working upwards / across the bone, towards the heart.” (Pastan 10-12) reveal the loneliness and devastation experienced in the face of inevitable death, and eventually, more loss. As the author acknowledges that death is imminent, she is capable of acquiescing to it. Nevertheless, the end of the poem demonstrates that after reflections on life and death, the author is ready: “And as I take my body back / the sun lays its warm muzzle on my lap / as if to make amends.” (Pastan 19-21). The only method of surviving in the world stands for the ability to take a step away from it and learning not to rely on anyone or not to be attached so close that someone’s loss tears one apart (Simms et al. 121). This requires time to understand that life is full of little things, which practically “make amends” (Pastan 20) for the difficult times. 

Pastan vividly portrays all the abovementioned ideas in the analyzed poem. The author demonstrates that it is highly important to learn to give up the ties to the world before the world’s ties drag the individual down. One of the most effective choices that Pastan made for the complete explanation of the poem’s meaning stands for the selection of the tree symbol. Thus, the author demonstrates that during the morning, the tree that was in the shadows of the dark is slowly turning to the light as the sun rises over the east. Twig by twig, it is lightened by the rays of the sun just as the morning comes, similarly to the way the light releases people from the darkness, making problems brighter and easier to handle. 

The topic of life and death continues in the poem “Winter Stars” by Larry Levis. The winter depicted in this poem cannot be viewed as literary, as this is the winter of death. This is a poem dedicated to the author’s father and his death. The author does not hide the fact that his father is dying via allusions, metaphors, or epithets. He vividly depicts it in the lines: “My father is beginning to die. Something / Inside him is slowly taking back / Every word it ever gave him.” (Levis 24-26). In fact, the current poem appears to be an affirmation grounded on the capability of rejuvenating the soul. The author intertwined the poem with his father’s disease. Descriptions of the individual’s mind in the form of a city allows the author to demonstrate how slowly his father is passing away from him, as the “lights go off, one by one” (Levis 34). It is similar to shutting down a city, which appears to be quiet and lonely. The transience of the individual’s life is compared to the everlasting winter of starlight, which reaches everyone even after the stars have already died: “Like laughter that has found a final, silent shape / On a black sky.” (Levis 56). The fact that the author utilizes the symbol of winter is highly important, as winter symbolizes hope, allowing the condition to sound less hopeless, as spring always goes after winter, restoring people (Simms et al. 108). Hence, the usage of winter stands as a sign to portray that something will get better over time.


The poem demonstrates complicated, stressed, and entangled relationships between the father and son. The author uses the phrase “for years … empty” (Levis 44-45), hinting that relationships have been cold and far from being intimate. However, the verse reveals the entire journey of their relationships – from being cold to become close. The beginning of the poem demonstrates that the author’s father is frightening and rough, especially in the opening lines of the poem: “My father once broke a man’s hand / Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor.” (Levis 1-2). The deployment of the poem demonstrates how the author’s voice softens, as his father becomes more and more helpless as if he “lost syllable”, being incapable of “[solving] everything” (Levis 28-29). Therefore, emotions appearing through the lines of the poem further intensify the transformation of the father-son relationships, revealing how the disease changes them from nothing to actually caring and loving.

The poem “Winter Stars”, similarly to the poem “I Am Learning to Abandon the World”, demonstrates the acquirement of a positive attitude towards some painful issue through reflections and time. Both poems reveal that authors are suffering from the existing or possible loss, but at the same time, they express the state of hope and the hearts full of desire. Both poems have very strong symbols. Levis utilizes the symbol of winter while Pastan uses the symbol of the morning, both of which presuppose some positive change, giving solid hope in life. Moreover, both poems demonstrate a vivid change of feeling close to the end of each poem. However, in the case of Pastan’s poem, the author is capable of finding the inner desire to continue to live while in Levis’s work, the author is capable of changing the father-son interactions from practically nothing to pure love. Both poems reveal the inevitability of death but portray the necessity to fight for happiness.

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The abovementioned themes continue in another poem written by Linda Pastan, namely “The Obligation to Be Happy”. This poem is highly necessary for combining the abovementioned works, as it reveals the inner struggle to hide genuine feelings from others behind the smile. Regardless of all possible problems, losses, or complicacies in life, one constantly struggles with all problems on his or her own, having no possibility to show others inner fragility or weakness. The most important message here stands for the fact that despite the individual smiles to everyone surrounding him or her, no one will ever understand that deep down the smiling person cannot be viewed as genuinely happy because of inner pain.

In the first stanza, Pastan introduces the expectations that her family and friends place on her while outlining her thoughts of achieving happiness. She addresses the audience directly, utilizing the pronoun “you” indicating that she feels pressure from many, not just a particular individual (Witsell 171). The author starts the poem with the words: “It is more onerous / than the rites of beauty… harder than love.” (Pastan 1-3). The author demonstrates that people frequently “casually” (Pastan 4) bargain for others to be happy without actually reflecting on an individual’s genuine feelings. They are absolutely sure that others have to be happy similarly to the way the sun always comes up even regardless such deterrents as clouds and rain: “expect the sun / to come up, not in spite of rain / or clouds but because of them.” (Pastan 5-7). Thus, Pastan shares the inner feeling of confidence that others expect her to be constantly happy regardless of anything happening in her life. Her disappointed tone at the beginning of the stanza shows that she is disappointed by her friends’ and family’s expectations. 

Nevertheless, the beginning of the second stanza demonstrates the change of attitude, especially through the attempts of achieving happiness. The tone of the poem changes, making it sound as if the author is willing to attempt and actually become a happier person. However, this also demonstrates her uncontrollable reactions concerning happiness, especially through the words: “own fidelity / to sadness was a hidden vice” (Pastan 8-9). It is highly important to mention that the author demonstrates that even health and love are less important than happiness through the phrase: “health / and love are brief irrelevancies” (Pastan 11-12). Even these two highly significant concepts cannot help her in fulfilling the happiness quota placed upon her. The author portrays the societal pressure each person encounters as if others observe one being blessed with love, there are no other problems or issues that might make the person feel inner pain or be upset. Pastan raises the problem of being hypocritical to others and especially to oneself, stimulating oneself to carry the burden of faking happiness in order to please those around her. The author provides an important allusion, comparing oneself to Midas, helping to portray the burden of fake happiness as a knapsack of gold coins. It means that despite the fact that she has the goods for society to expect her to be happy, she merely feels weighed down, having no place or purpose to spend them (Witsell 171). Therefore, happiness, meaning genuine happiness and not the mask of cheerfulness, which hides inner depression, is much harder to achieve than everybody thinks it is.

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This poem reveals actual feelings the authors of the first two analyzed poems encounter. Their loss is an intimate feeling, which should not be shared with others, especially due to the fact that they do not care for genuine feelings of people surrounding them. Similarly to the first two analyzed poems, the mood of this one changed in the second stanza, revealing the desire to fight for happiness regardless of all difficulties. All poems provide symbols of hope, including morning, winter, and sun, all of which hint to the importance to live regardless of all difficulties and not to be stopped by them. In addition, all three poems reveal complicated relationships with close people who are either lost or do not understand the narrators of the poems. Nevertheless, the current poem is different from the two analyzed above, as there is no state of peacefulness by the end of the verse. The author still lives in a solid-state of despair, being incapable of perceiving the inner state and coping with it.

The current paper has compared, contrasted, and analyzed two poems by Linda Pastan and one poem by Larry Levis, showing the themes of life, death, and happiness. All three poems are closely intertwined by common themes even despite some vivid discrepancies among them. They all reveal the transience of life and hint to the importance of hope and self-acceptance. They all show that there is always hope, which should be preserved and consolidated for people to be capable of fighting for own happiness.


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