Lawrence Ferlinghetti:
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Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes

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Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes

At the stoplight waiting for the light                   nine a.m. downtown San Francisco   a bright yellow garbage truck            with two garbagemen in red plastic blazers     standing on the back stoop                   one on each side hanging on  and looking down into                   an elegant open Mercedes       with an elegant couple in it


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

The man      in a hip three-piece linen suit         with shoulder-length blond hair & sunglassesThe young blond woman so casually coifed               with a short skirt and colored stockings   on the way to his architect's office


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

And the two scavengers up since four a.m.                   grungy from their route          on the way homeThe older of the two with grey iron hair                         and hunched back        looking down like some                gargoyle QuasimodoAnd the younger of the two            also with sunglasses & long hair      about the same age as the Mercedes driver


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

And both scavengers gazing down                         as from a great distance               at the cool couple      as if they were watching some odorless TV ad           in which everything is always possible


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

And the very red light for an instant              holding all four close together          as if anything at all were possible                                   between them       across that small gulf                     in the high seas                                   of this democracy


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

  • The title shows us straight away that the poem will be about the contrasts between two pairs of people. Scavengers is a derogatory term for the garbagemen because it suggests that they live off the rubbish of others - a scavenger beetle lives off rotting flesh. However, Beautiful People is a compliment. So, right from the start, we feel the garbagemen are at a disadvantage.

Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes

Describes four people held together for a moment at a red traffic light. There are two scavengers, garbagemen 'on their way home' after their round, and two beautiful people, an elegant couple 'on the way to his architect's office'. The garbagemen's day ends where the young couple's begins. The poet compares the two pairs in detail, then seems to ask - at the end of the poem - whether America really is a democracy.


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born in 1919 in New York. One of the main poets of the Beat movement. He often writes about politics and social issues

Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

The garbagemen are 'looking down' (line 7) into the Mercedes. At face value this is clearly because the garbage truck is taller than the car, but is there an ironic message too? You might have expected the rich couple to 'look down on' the dustmen, not the other way round.

At the stoplight waiting for the light                   nine a.m. downtown San Francisco   a bright yellow garbage truck            with two garbagemen in red plastic blazers     standing on the back stoop                   one on each side hanging on  and looking down into                   an elegant open Mercedes       with an elegant couple in it


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

The man      in a hip three-piece linen suit         with shoulder-length blond hair & sunglassesThe young blond woman so casually coifed               with a short skirt and colored stockings   on the way to his architect's office

  • The descriptions of the four people are very visual, making it easy to imagine the scene. Appearances tell us a lot. The rich couple are very fashionable: he has an expensive'hip three-piece linen suit‘ while her blond hair is 'casually coifed'


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

And the two scavengers up since four a.m.                   grungy from their route          on the way homeThe older of the two with grey iron hair                         and hunched back        looking down like some                gargoyle QuasimodoAnd the younger of the two            also with sunglasses & long hair      about the same age as the Mercedes driver

On the other hand, the garbagemen are grungy The younger one has sunglasses & long hair just like the Mercedes driver, which forces us to compare the two.


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

They are actually close together, stuck at the red light. Does the image suggest the 'distance' between the lives each pair lead?

And both scavengers gazing down                         as from a great distance               at the cool couple      as if they were watching some odorless TV ad           in which everything is always possible

To the garbagemen, the couple are almost unreal and their lifestyle is out of reach.


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

The closing lines of the poem involve a metaphor about the sea. If America is the high seas, the distance between the two vehicles is a 'small gulf'

And the very red light for an instant              holding all four close together          as if anything at all were possible                                   between them       across that small gulf                     in the high seas                                   of this democracy

It may look possible to cross, but really it is impossible

narrow mouth that should be easy to cross


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

 ’ a bright yellow garbage truck            with two garbagemen in red plastic blazers’

‘grey iron hair’

  • The garbagemen are riding 'a bright yellow garbage truck' and wear 'red plastic blazers' later on we find one of them has 'grey iron hair' (line 19). These are strong colours. The couple in the Mercedes, though, are almost colourless: he wears a 'linen suit' (line 11) - natural linen is a cream colour - and they both have blond hair. Is the poet suggesting that the garbagemen have more 'colour' in their lives? Are the young couple actually 'colourless' and boring?


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

‘looking down like some                gargoyle Quasimodo’

  • The older garbage man has a hunched back and looks 'like some gargoyle This simile is striking: Quasimodo is the Hunchback of Notre Dame in Victor Hugo's novel. He is a tragic figure: kind and loving despite his ugliness, he finally dies of a broken heart. 'Quasimodo' means 'almost finished' or 'half made'. Do you think Ferlinghetti compares the dustman to Quasimodo simply to help us imagine his appearance, or for other reasons?


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

Structure

The poem's structure is fairly free. The poet doesn't use punctuation; instead, he begins a new line when he wants us to pause in our reading. This slows the poem down and gives us time to appreciate each idea.

The poem appears very fragmented on the page. Do you think that this might suggest the fragmented or 'broken' nature of society?


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

Language

  • The poem is written in the present tense. This gives a sense of immediacy - we feel that the poem is happening now. It also suggests that the huge gap between rich and poor is a problem now, too.

The language is modern, simple and sometimes colloquial (eg, 'cool couple'). There are short cuts - & is used instead of 'and' (lines 12 and 24).


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

What point is Ferlinghetti making about American democracy?

  • Has it failed, because there is still an obvious gap between rich and poor?

  • Or would it be unrealistic to expect a perfect democracy, free of class distinctions?

  • What do you think the political views of the Two Scavengers and the Two Beautiful People might be?


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

Tone

A good way to decide on the tone of a poem is to work out how you would read it aloud. Should this poem be read:

  • in a loud, angry tone, to protest about the failure of democracy?

  • in a quiet tone, to express sadness that a gap remains between rich and poor?

  • in a dramatic tone, so that we wonder what may happen between the two pairs of people?


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

Ideas

The ideas in this poem are to do with the extreme divisions between rich people and poor people in a supposedly equal society, and the effect these divisions have on how people see each other. Have a look at the following quotations, and the suggestions about how they fit into this theme.


Lawrence ferlinghetti two scavengers in a truck two beautiful people in a mercedes

Quotation Commentary

.. the two scavengers up since four a.m. / grungy from their route

We are encouraged to sympathise with these garbagemen who work anti social hours and who become dirty and smelly as a result. The specific detail (four a.m.) and the expressive word grungy make us pity them.

.. the cool couple ..The elegant couple are not described in as much detail as the garbagemen, as if the poet is less interested in them. He uses a cliché here, the cool couple - which is how they probably think of themselves.

as if anything at all were possible / between them ..It seems that the poet would like to believe that the two pairs he describes really could be friends - but the as if tells us he knows that is only imaginary. He feels that democracy hasn't succeeded because communication between the rich and poor is still impossible.


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