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Philip Levine. By Conan Schuster. Arrangement. Life Awards Explication/Literary terms Explication/Personal Analysis Critical Analysis . Life. Second of 3 sons Father owned a car business Mother was a book seller Father died at age 5 Face anti-Semitism (he was Jewish)

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philip levine

Philip Levine

By Conan Schuster

  • Life
  • Awards
  • Explication/Literary terms
  • Explication/Personal Analysis
  • Critical Analysis
  • Second of 3 sons
  • Father owned a car business
  • Mother was a book seller
  • Father died at age 5
  • Face anti-Semitism (he was Jewish)
  • Age 14 he started working in a car manufacturing plant.
  • Graduated from Detroit Central High School and than attended Wayne University
  • In 1957 he won the Jones Fellowship in poetry at Stanford University
  • In 1958 he started teaching at English department at California State
  • 2011 Appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to Library of Congress
  • 1995 Pulitzer Prize
  • 1991 National Book Award

“I saw that the people that I was working with…were voiceless in a way,”(Poetry Foundation)

“Nobody was speaking for them. And as young people will, you know, I took this foolish vow that I would speak for them and that’s what my life would be. And sure enough I’ve gone and done it. Or I’ve tried anyway…”(Poetry Foundation)


Seeing his mother coming home

he kneels behind a parked car,

one hand over his mouth

to still his breathing. She passes, climbs

the stairs, and again the street is his

Enjambment-thought continuing

after line break

Caesura- pauses

Imagery- sense experience shown

through language


Enjambment- thought continuing

after line break

Caesura- pauses

We’re in an American city, Toledo, sometime in the last century, though

it could be Buffalo or Flint,

the places are the same except

for the names.


A boy playing in the street just wants a few more minutes outside so he hides behind a car to avoid detection. Levine than applies this typical scenario to the whole country.


At eight or nine,

even at eleven, kids are the same,

without an identity, without a soul,

things with bad teeth and bad clothes.


We could give them names, we could

name the mother Gertrude, and give her

a small office job typing bills of lading

eight hours a day five and a half

days a week.


Kids are young, and impressionable. They have fun and sometimes forget to brush their teeth. They don’t care how they look. They just want to have fun.

. Gertrude (which means:

“Spear of Strength”) works tirelessly to provide

for her children.


We could give her

dreams of marriage to the boss

who’s already married, but we

don’t because she loathes him.


It’s her son, Sol, she loves,

the one still hiding with one knee

down on the concrete drawing

the day’s last heat. He’s got feelings.


The mother hates her boss. However, she needs to have money to support her child. Her son, Sol(which means: “the sun”), sits on the concrete alone drawing. Ironic that he’s drawing the days last heat when his name means “sun”. I interrupt this as his child hood ending. Foreshadows his death.


Young as he is he can feel heat,

cold, pain, just as a dog would

and like a dog he’ll answer

to his name. Go ahead, call him,

“Hey, Solly, Solly boy, come here!”


He doesn’t bark, he doesn\'t’t sit,

he doesn’t beg or extend one paw

in a gesture of submission.

He accepts his whole name, even

as a kid he stands and faces us,


Sol is young, blind and without a path. He still responds like a dog, not old enough to have formed his own opinions completely. When put on the spot he doesn’tknowhow to respond. He just stands and looks.


Just as eleven years from now

he’ll stand and face his death

flaming toward him on a bridge-

head at Remagen


while Gertrude

goes on typing mechanically

into the falling winter night.


In this scene Gertrude is reflecting on the death of her son and her life. Into the falling winter night implies a dark feeling that doesn\'t’t end. She is still falling and still typing about her regrets.

personal analysis
Personal Analysis
  • Levine writes about the oppressiveness of
  • American Society by creating a poem in the first person
  • of a single working mom. He uses Gertrude as a analogy
  • for all people in her similar situation.
critical analysis
Critical Analysis
  • “A large, ironic Whitman of the industrial heartland’ according to Edward Hirsch in the New York Times Book Review, Philip Levine is one of the elder statesmen of contemporary American poetry.”(Poetry Foundation 1)
  • Herbert Leibowitz says, “Levine has returned again and again in his poems to the lives of factory workers trapped by poverty and the drudgery of the assembly line, which breaks the body and scars the spirit.”(Poetry Foundation 2)
works cited
Works Cited

"Philip Levine." : The Poetry Foundation. Web. 13 May 2013.

"Biography of Philip Levine." Poemhunter. Web. 14 May 2013.

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