Study Guide

Constantly Risking Absurdity The Poet-Acrobat

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The Poet-Acrobat

The poem opens with a focus on the poet who's compared to an acrobat of sorts. He's got some fancy footwork, which we know is just a metaphor for his magic-hat of poetic devices. He also has some lofty responsibilities, catching Beauty, and is constantly risking "absurdity and death." We know from the very beginning that Ferlinghetti is trying to make us see his poet in a more imaginative and figurative sense. Which makes sense since the poet-acrobat's entire purpose is by nature a little crazy and unpredictable.

  • Lines 1-6: From the very beginning, the performer we see is the poet himself. He performs "above the heads" of his audience and is "constantly risking absurdity and death." We get that there's something deceptive about the performance, when we consider the connotations of the word "perform," just like there may be something deceptive about a poet's work. And then there's that hint that the poet-acrobat is somewhat above the common folk. After all, he's got a very important duty, what with catching Beauty and averting death.
  • Lines 6-8: The poet climbs on that slippery "rime," again posing the suggestion that there's a dangerous nature to his performance. He "climbs" which also suggests that this is no easy feat and it's a challenging process to boot. But hey, he asked for it. He's on a "high wire of his own making," remember? It's his world and as such he's responsible for everything that goes on in it. 
  • Lines 16-18: While he's doing all that fancy footwork, he also knows that he has to see things for what they are rather than what they "may not be." In other words, he's got to be sharp, honest, and able to see all sides of the picture. That's a tall order folks, but it's also a good metaphor for writing poetry.
  • Lines 19-24: This guy's a "super realist," and he has to perceive "taut truth." That "truth" is not going to shout and wave at him. He's got to have a keen eye and he also needs to bear in mind that it might be a delicate thing. Phew—quite the balancing act.
  • Lines 28-31: All this effort? It's in the name of catching "Beauty" and her fine self. That's what the poet-acrobat has been after this whole time. But will he catch her? We'll never know, just like the poet-acrobat will never be too sure if his work will amount to genius or a load of crap (read: absurdity).

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