John Updike Essay, Research Paper
John Updike?s poems are written in a very peculiar style. Unlike most poets, Updike?s poems seem to tell a story, rather than depict a singular emotion. This is due to the fact that many of Updike?s poems deal with simple, yet focused topics. Updike masters the use of vivid language to produce powerful images in the minds of his readers. The use of such strong language in his poems allow his readers to see and experience the messages which he is portraying. Although the topics of Updike?s poems vary immensely, the same detailed conceptions are evoked from every poem.
One poem that stands out, among his sexual pieces, is Fellatio. Unlike intercourse, fellatio has been depicted throughout history as an unclean and unacceptable practice. In Updike?s poem, Fellatio, he initially gives this sexual act a completely different characterization. Updike writes, ?How beautiful to think / that each of these clean secretaries / at night, to please her lover, takes / a fountain into her mouth…? (p. 49). Although the act of oral sex is widely practiced today, I have never heard it depicted as a beautiful act. The sense of beauty comes from the idea that the woman and her lover share a bond so deep that she is willing to do anything to please him. Updike later portrays this act as very natural, because he goes on to compare the culmination of oral sex to nature in the end of this poem. The act is compared to the planting of flowers in a field, or the beautiful, clean, innocent clouds in the sky. This poem was very shocking to me, because it gave this act such innocent, natural connotations, when you first read it. Updike, however, has added a subtle element of humor to this poem. This element of humor depicts the speaker?s true feelings about this act. The line in which the speaker says ?How beautiful,? is clearly sarcastic. It also seem to imply that there is comedic value to the idea that these women, who appear so clean cut and proper in the work place, can return home to their lovers and be completely different.
In another of Updike?s sexual poems, sex is represented in an extremely different manner. In Updike?s poem, Cunts, a very contradictory image of sexuality is given. Updike uses the word cunt in this poem consistently. This word is a very degrading word for the vagina, but he characterizes the female genitalia in a very positive fashion. Updike characterizes this portion of the human anatomy as a beautiful thing, especially when he refers to it as the, ?…Glad tunnel of life…? (p. 118). The process of giving birth is probably the most beautiful and rewarding experience that a woman can endure. Due to this characterization, the reader is filled with a respect for the woman?s body, because of the miracles that it can perform. Updike inserts the word cunt into the middle of thoughts, to enhance his point. Updike writes, ?…there is almost / cunt too much of a CUNT good thing CUNT…? (p.119). The use of these derogatory, interfering statements provides the reader with a clear view of Updike?s point. Updike is showing the reader that society?s view of men and women in society is tainted. We as a society tend to treat women as the inferior gender, with less freedom and more demanding guidelines than men. Most men crave sexual contact with a woman all of the time and when act upon these impulses, they are idolized by their peers. If a woman has the same urges and act upon them, however, she is instantly labeled a slut and a whore by society.
Updike uses interesting techniques to enhance the meaning of his poems in other ways as well. In some of his non-sexual pieces, he uses interesting words and rhymes to present his meaning to the reader. In his poem, Reel, Updike repeats tongue twisting words, such as, whirl, whorl and wharve to pass the poems meaning on to his reader. In this particular poem Updike is trying to construct a sense of reeling to the reader. Updike does this, not through the meaning of his words, but their sounds when read aloud. When reading a passage of this poem, the reader?s mind and mouth are sent spinning through the use of common letters and sounds within the words. Updike writes, ?Whirl, whorl or wharve! The world / Whirls within solar rings / Which once were hotly hurled / Away by whirling things!? (p. 296) When a person experiences an emotion or sensation so powerful that their world seems out of control, there comes a sense of freedom. This passage, like the remainder of the poem, causes the reader?s tongue and mind to flow so freely, that they forget about trying to decipher the meaning of the poem and truly experience the meaning. This is one of the most effective poems that I have ever read, because without giving an ounce of thought to the meaning of the poem, it is instantly conveyed.
Like this last poem, Updike uses sounds in many of his poems to enhance the messages of his poems. In the poem, Sonic Boom, Updike ends every line with words that end in resounding syllables. The poem is expressing the excitement and fear that a family feels when hearing a sonic boom. The sheer force of this fear is conveyed to the reader by the power of words which are used in the poem. The words are not powerful, however, due to their meaning, but rather because of the resounding sounds that they command. By ending his lines in words such as boom, doom, clap, snap, nap, boom and doom, Updike enhances the feeling of every line. The speaker says, ?The ceiling shudders at the clap…? (p. 305) and although shudders is a strong verb in itself, the use of a thunderous word at the end of the line drives his point into the reader?s mind and body. We can all, when reading this poem, not only hear the sound that the plane makes when it passes overhead, but we can actually feel it reverberating through our bodies.
John Updike uses many different techniques in his poems to convey the messages of his poems. Updike uses contradictory descriptions and images to amplify his meaning in some of his poems. These poems tend to create two very different images within the reader?s mind, but he also has another affective means of making the reader understand the meaning of his poems. John Updike is a master of manipulating the sound of words. This allows his readers to actually feel the meanings of his poems, without having to explore his intentions when writing the poems.
Updike, John Collected Poems 1953-1993. New York: Random House, Inc. 1993.