Purity and filth have been on opposite sides of the fence ever since a distinction was made between the two. The purity vs filth battle can be seen in many aspects of life, whether that be displayed in race, religion, or even geographically. This brings into question, where is the division between filth and purity, or is there a division at all? This division is called out in Joe Weil’s “Ode to Elizabeth”, Nicolás Guillén’s “What Color?”, and possibly even in William Carlos William’s “This is Just to Say”.
For Joe Weil, purity can rise from the filth. In Weil’s poem “Ode to Elizabeth,” he describes his hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey; he starts by quoting Time magazine with “Grimy Elizabeth.” (1) This sets the tone for most of “Ode to Elizabeth,” where the people are factory workers and have “bad taste in furniture.” (48-49) Weil sets the stage of a grimy town where things of purity rarely surface to the outside world. Yet in this town, Weil knows this is where he belongs. For Weil, this town displays its purity in the common people: filth comes in following the crowd where “everyone reads Pound.” (135) For Weil there is purity in this town of filth, and he is protective of the culture that Elizabeth brings: for he concludes his ode with a question from mainstream poets, “‘My Gawd…How can you be a poet and live in that stinking town?’ My answer will be swift. I’ll kick him in the balls.” (187-190) Joe Weil shows that even the things that are often seen as filth can really be where the core of true purity lays. Weil narrows the gap between filth vs purity to a point where they almost overlap.
As Joe Weil describes where purity lays, Nicolás Guillén in his poem “What Color?” designates the c...
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...sition from the Garden of Eden, a place of complete purity, to being cast down to earth, the place of filth. “This is Just to Say” shows the transition period between these two and how the effect of being cast into the filth was worth the “delicious” plums, giving a sense of purity in the filth.
Through these works, the distinction between purity and filth has been blurred. This distinction between filth and purity was called into question by Joe Weil in “Ode to Elizabeth”, where Weil overlaps filth and purity in the city of Elizabeth; also by Nicolás Guillén in “What Color?”, where Guillén negates color from the definition of purity; and also in William Carlos William’s “This is Just to Say”, where Williams provides a sense of purity in a world full of filth. These poems combined show how the distinction between filth and purity is not as easy as black and white.
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