Kenneth Fearing’s Dirge Essay

Kenneth Fearing’s Dirge Essay

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Kenneth Fearing’s Dirge


Traditionally, dirges are composed in the form of a song or hymn of mourning as a memorial to a dead person. The very definition suggests that the particular qualities of the dead individual deserve recognition. The dirge is not just written for anyone, but for those deserving of glorification, who survive in the memories of the living as testaments to the greater capacities of humankind. It is against this traditional definition that Kenneth Fearing’s poem, “Dirge”, is working, not only as an overt commentary on the social, cultural, and political factors surrounding the destabilization of 1930’s America but also as an abstraction of the prevalent views of reality: the dehumanization of the human. Fearing superimposes these thematic projects onto the context of the Great Depression, a period of American history often seen as representing overarching society decline, the dull malaise of futility, and the alienation of the individual. Through an exploration of the structural elements of “Dirge”, one can find just how Fearing constructs a particular vision of modernism.
As a prelude to an inquiry into thematic elements of the poem, it is first necessary to draw out the importance of Fearing’s use of experimental form. Fearing “adheres” to the conventional use of strophic poetic construction, making use of epigrammatic style, where the seven stanzas separate the lament into isolated combinations and experiments on language and the content suggests each might stand alone as organic entities. Putting these highly-varied units into a single poem reflects on the incoherence of broader theme of death and the response to death, the dirge, as well as the notion that such a broad topic as death contains many sma...


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..., the content and form has self-deconstructed, resulting in a meaningless reduction/manifestation of repetition. The primary focus of the poem on the death and memory of a man has been sacrificed, leaving only the skeletal membrane of any sort of focus in the poem. The “Dirge” which initially was meant to reflect on the life of the individual has been completely abstracted. The “Dirge” the reader is left with at the end of the poem is one meant for anyone and no one. Just as the internal contradictions in Kenneth Fearing’s poem have eliminated the substantial significance of each isolated concern, the reader is left without not only a resolution, but any particular tangible meaning at all. The form and content of this poem have quite effectively established a powerful modernist statement, ironically contingent on the absence and not the presence of meaning in life.

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