Study Guide

Man Listening to Disc Quotes

  • Art and Culture

    With Sonny Rollins for company,
    his music flowing through the soft calipers
    of these earphones (3-5)

    The speaker introduces us to the fact that he's listening to jazz through his earphones. By saying that he has "Sonny Rollins" for company, he's suggesting that he is very intimate with Rollins (and his music). Already, we're getting a sense of how important music is to this speaker.

    is surpassed only by my gratitude

    to Tommy Potter for taking the time
    to join us on this breezy afternoonwith his most unwieldy bass (15-18)

    The speaker's words here suggest how grateful he is for the music he's listening to. Tommy Potter's bass guitar (and Rollins' saxophone) are giving him something. They're making him feel good about himself and the world. In speaking of his "gratitude" to Tommy Potter, the speaker suggests that music (and jazz specifically) is a gift that we're given. Also, by speaking of Potter "joining" him on his walk, he gives a sense of how close he feels to this musician, and the others he mentions in the poem. It's as if they're right there with him.

    and to the esteemed Arthur Taylor
    who is somehow managing to navigate

    this crowd with his cumbersome drums (19-21)

    And here we get Arthur Taylor, the jazz musician, joining the speaker on his walk. Of course, the speaker isn't speaking literally when he says that Taylor is navigating "this crowd with his cumbersome drums." But by imagining him walking next to him with his drums, the speaker again gives us a sense of how connected he feels to Taylor and his music. Music is a bridge that links the speaker to the drummer.

    And I bow deeply to Thelonious Monk
    For figuring out a way
    To motorize – or whatever – his huge piano
    So he could be with us today (22-25)

    In these lines, the speaker presents us with an image of the pianist Thelonious Monk, who he is also listening to on his earphones, "motoriz[ing]" "or whatever" his piano. It's as if Monk has his piano on big wheels and is wheeling it down the street along with the speaker. By giving us this physical image of Monk and his piano, the speaker suggests again just how connected he feels to the music and to the musician playing it.

    This music is loud yet so confidential.
    I cannot help feeling even more
    like the center of the universe
    than usual as I walk along to a rapid
    little version "The Way You Look Tonight," (26-30)

    The speaker gives us a sense of the contradictions of the music that he's listening to in these lines. It's "loud yet so confidential." It's brash, but it's also intimate. And what's more, it makes the speaker feel like he's on top of the world. These lines give us sense of just how transformative music can be. It changes the speaker's outlook on himself and the world, and it makes him feel happy.

  • Happiness

    This is not bad –
    ambling along 44th Street
    with Sonny Rollins for company (1-3)

    The speaker says it ain't "bad" walking along the street and listening to Sonny Rollins. The statement that begins the poem is an understatement of sorts. As we read along, we discover that, not only is it not bad walking along and listening to music, it's actually pretty awesome. These first few words of the poem put us directly into the speaker's point of view and into his mood.

    […] this clear day in March,
    the pavement sparkling with sunlight,
    pigeons fluttering off the curb (7-9)

    The speaker doesn't talk directly about happiness in these lines, but we get a sense of his happiness through the description of the setting. It's a "clear" spring day in March, the sunlight is sparking, and there are pigeons fluttering about. There's light and movement here, which gives us a sense of the speaker's own high (or bright) spirits.

    In fact, I would say
    my delight at being suffused with phrases from his saxophone –
    some like honey, some like vinegar – (11-13)

    The speaker tells us that he's "delighted" to be listening to Sonny Rollins play his saxophone. His use of the word "suffused" suggests that he is not only suffused by the music, he's suffused (filled up) by delight.

    is surpassed only by my gratitude

    to Tommy Potter for taking the time 
    to join us on this breezy afternoon (14-16)

    The speaker's also feeling a whole lotta "gratitude" for another jazz musician, Tommy Potter, who he listens to through his earphones. The "gratitude" that the speaker feels here suggests that music is a gift. And it's making him happy.

  • Friendship

    ambling along 44th Street
    with Sonny Rollins for company (3-4)

    The speaker talks about Rollins keeping him "company" on his walk in these lines. He makes it sound as though Rollins is actually walking right there beside him, chatting to him. Of course the speaker is just listening to Rollins' music, but the way he talks about listening to this music (with Rollins keeping him "company") makes it sound as though they're old buddies and friends.

    […] my gratitude

    to Tommy Potter for taking the time 
    to join us on this breezy afternoon (15-17)

    By saying that the bass player is "joining" him and Rollins on his walk, the speaker begins to give us a sense of a music community that he's a part of. Listening to Potter on his earphones makes the speaker feel as though Potter is a friend "taking the time" to join him on his walk.

    and to the esteemed Arthur Taylor
    who is somehow managing to navigate

    this crowd with his cumbersome drums. (18-20)

    Again, here the speaker gives us a picture of the drummer Arthur Taylor "navigating" the crowd that the speaker is walking through with his "cumbersome drums." By evoking this image of Taylor walking along with him, the speaker gives us a sense of the friendship or camaraderie he feels with these musicians.

    And I bow deeply to Thelonious Monk
    for figuring out a way
    to motorize – or whatever – his huge piano
    so he could be with us today. (21-24)

    Monk is the fifth musician who joins the speaker's jazz crew. By depicting Monk walking along with him, the speaker suggests that Monk is his friend.

    because the five of us, instruments and all,
    are about to angle over
    to the south side of the street
    and then, in our own tightly knit way,
    turn the corner at Sixth Avenue (36-40)

    The speaker depicts himself and the musicians (with all their instruments) as one big group. They're all doing the same thing: angling over to the south side of the street. They're moving together. What's more, the speaker refers to them as moving in their "own tightly knit way." The use of the words "tightly knit" suggests just how close this "group" is. They're tight buddies.

  • Power

    I cannot help feeling even more
    like the center of the universe
    than usual as I walk along to a rapid
    little version of "The Way You Look Tonight" (27-30)

    This music is making the speaker feel really powerful. Of course, we all feel like the center of the universe, because we only see the world through our perspective. But by saying that the song makes him feel "even more/ like the center of the universe," the speaker suggests that the music gives him a heightened sense of power and importance.

    and all I can say to my fellow pedestrians,
    to the woman in the white sweater,
    the man in the tan raincoat and heavy glasses,
    who mistake themselves for the center of the universe –
    all I can say is watch your step (31-35)

    These lines give us a sense of the speaker's cockiness and importance that he experiences as a result of listening to the music. The pedestrians he's passing sure aren't the "center of the universe"; he is. The speaker, in other words, is feeling very important as a result of listening to this music.

    And if any of you are curious
    about where this aggregation,
    this whole battery-powered crew,
    is headed (41-44)

    By describing himself as part of an "aggregation," the speaker suggests that his sense of power comes from belonging to this group of musicians: he's part of a gang. We'll also pick up on the word "power" in "battery-powered crew." The speaker is referring to the batteries that power his CD player here, but this is not only a battery-powered crew, it's a powerful crew.

    […] let us just say
    that the real center of the universe,

    the only true point of view,
    is full of hope that he, the hub of the cosmos (40-44)

    The speaker uses some pretty extravagant terms to refer to himself in these lines. He's the "only true point of view" and "the real center of the universe," and the "hub of the cosmos." It doesn't get much more self-centered than that, does it? But the speaker isn't being totally serious, of course. He's just trying to give us a sense of how good this music makes him feel. It makes him feel like the center of the world.

  • Dreams, Hopes and Plans

    This is not bad –
    ambling along 44th Street (1-2)

    The speaker's use of the word "ambling" in these lines gives us a sense of relaxed, aimless wandering. This speaker isn't rushing to get somewhere, and he doesn't have any dinner plans to catch. He's just enjoying the moment.

    […] the five of us, instrument and all,
    are about to angle over
    to the south side of the street
    and then, in our own tightly knit way,
    turn the corner at Sixth Avenue (35-40)

    Sure, it's not a grand "plan" to angle over to the south side of the street, but it's a plan nonetheless.

    And if any of you are curious
    about where this aggregation,
    this whole battery-powered crew,
    is headed (41-44)

    These lines address us speakers directly. Maybe we're "curious," as the speaker says, about where this musical gang is going. By raising the question of where the speaker and his musicians are going, these lines bring up the question of plans. What are these dudes up to?

    the only true point of view,
    is full of hope that he,
    the hub of the cosmos
    with his hair blown sideways,
    will eventually make it all the way downtown (45-50)

    These lines make it clear what the speaker's big "hope" is: to make it "downtown." That's a pretty modest hope, we think. He's enjoying the moment and living in the present, taking in the beautiful music, the nice weather. And in this way, the speaker's hopes and plans are modest because hey, he's so engrossed in the moment that he isn't interested in thinking about anything beyond getting downtown.