John Ashbery's Paradoxes and Oxymorons

John Ashbery's Paradoxes and Oxymorons

This poem is concerned with language on a very plain level.

Look at it talking to you. You look out a window

Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don't have it.

You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other.

This poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and cannot.

What's a plain level? It is that and other things,

Bringing a system of them into play. Play?

Well, actually, yes, but I consider play to be

A deeper outside thing, a dreamed role-pattern,

As in the division of grace these long August days

Without proof. Open-ended. And before you know

It gets lost in the steam and chatter of typewriters.

It has been played once more. I think you exist only

To tease me into doing it, on your level, and then you aren't there.

Or have adopted a different attitude. And the poem

Has set me softely down beside you. The poem is you.

Role Reversal

If a poem were to address the reader directly instead of taking a usual narrative point of view, what would the poem say? John Ashbery's "Paradoxes and Oxymorons" answers this question directly and with frustration. At first glance, the poem seems a structured mass of words, simply constructed. However, a second look revels the poem's straightforward attempt to, ironically, reverse the roles of reader and speaker. Through its diction, it is a unique portrayal of a simple poem's reaching out to grab the reader's attention, eager to express that it is not merely a collection of words but intricately related to whoever peruses it. An attitude of regret is also apparent. The speakerexpresses concern in that he cannot control the reader's ...

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...poer to examine and scrutinize literature in general, this role-reversal may come as a surprise to her. The poem now addresses her directly, as if to say, "This is how it's going to be."

A theme that prevails through this poem is the speaker's, or author's, realization of a specific concern. No matter what the author or speaker intends to generate through a work of literaturein general, it is up to the reder to truly decidee its meaning. Again and again in the realm of poetry there lies the possible nabilty for the reader to grasp whatever message the speaker has put forth. Ashbury's "Paradoxes and Oxymorons" demonstrates this theme by saying "The poem is you" - that is, to each his won interpretation. The reader must interpret for herself what a poem's purpose truly is, regardless of the speaker's intentions.
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