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In Goya's Greatest Scenes We Seem to See

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 664 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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We’re often taught to go with our first impressions. My first impression after reading Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “In Goya’s Greatest Scenes We Seem to See….” was that Ferlinghetti was just having some fun with hyperbole by making an exaggerated comparison between the tragedies of war and the troubles Americans face on the highways. Of course I quickly remembered this was indeed Ferlinghetti and it couldn’t be a simple poem of hyperbole. After a second read I noticed a good amount of alliteration, but still found myself dealing with his undeniable use of hyperbole. So, expanding my first impression I decided to study the use of hyperbole and alliteration as the main poetic devices in this poem. After continued re-readings it also became clear how Ferlinghetti brilliantly combined those two devices to achieve contrast and understatement as well.

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Let’s start with a simple read through to pick out as many examples of hyperbole as can be found. Doing a quick review of Goya’s paintings, most commentaries on this poem, including Linda Sue Grimes The “people of the world” can hardly be seen in one scene of any picture, especially considering the relatively narrow focus in most of Goya’s work. Catching the “exact moment” of anything is almost impossible, never mind that fact that “human suffering” while indeed evident during Goya’s time was certainly evident during the Plague and throughout prior history. Paintings are inanimate so the subjects can’t “writhe on the page”. There is a mention of “cement skies” and “carnivorous cocks”.

Moving to the second half of the poem Ferlinghetti references “legionnaires, false windmills and demented roosters”, all examples of hyperbole at some level. I’ve been in Dallas, NYC, Chicago, Miami and Paris but have never seen a freeway “fifty lanes wide” and my small back yard, which is hard tack clay, it still refutes the notion of a “concrete continent”. Despite claims of the ecology movement the engines of the painted cars of the citizenry cannot devour America. There are prisoner transfer vehicles occasionally seen on the American highways but they are no tumbrils on the highways.

Ferlinghetti’s starts his use of alliteration in the title with “Goya’s Greatest” and “Scenes we seem to see”. He references “Babies and bayonets” (alliteration and amazingly stark contrast), blasted trees, bent statues, bat wings and beaks. Cadavers and carnivorous cocks complete the first section. In the second segment contains the following alliterativephrases; “ranged along roads”, “further from home on freeways fifty lanes wide”, “concrete continent”, “bland billboards” , “illustrating imbecile illusions”, “scene shows”, and “more maimed”.

The two halves of the poem also represent hyperbole on a larger scale. Only the truly naïve would not see that comparing the tragic suffering of the subjects in Goya’s paintings to the suffering of people on US highways is an extravagant exaggeration. That is the definition of hyperbole according to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

This last point, comparing people being mutilated by inhumane soldiers to commuters, gave me cause to reflect. Surely Ferlinghetti wasn’t ignorant to the degree of distress and anguish the Spanish patriots experienced during the war. As I looked to research Ferlinghetti’s life I found life experience I didn’t expect.

His ability to take an emotionally detached view comes from a life in which he encountered loneliness and loss and isolation that “ quote from book”

There are many instances in his life that make it clear he was more familiar than most with the atrocities of war, so he certainly can’t claim ignorance of the horrors being suffered in the paintings of Goya. “ More quotes from book about his military experiences and the stories he heard from WWI, visa vie Hemingway”


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