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Drawing an Imaginary Line, Essay Example

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Essay

In the poem, “Of Time and the Line,” Charles Bernstein uses the word “line,” both for its connotative and denotative meaning. However, the phrase describing the actions of his father which says, “My father pushed a line of ladies’ dresses – not down the street in a pushcart but upstairs in a fact’ry office. My mother has been more concerned with her hemline,” (Booth and Mays 547) provides an excellent reference point for the rest of the essay, as it provides the reader with a glimpse into the connotative meaning for which the author uses the word “line.” The phrase, offers the only available insight to understand the author, as he uses it to explain other instances in which he repetitively uses the word. The phrase offers the key to understanding the poet’s connotative meaning within the poem, and plays an important role towards helping the reader to understand the whole poem.

Following the phrase, “My father pushed a line of ladies’ dresses,” the phrase expounds on the activities of the author’s father. It elaborates that as opposed to pushing them in a cart as the reader would assume at first, the author’s father was promiscuous. In this case, the word line is not used for its denotative meaning. This instance sets precedent for the reader, who becomes aware that the author is not after the denotative meaning when he uses the word “line,” but rather a more hidden connotative meaning. Therefore, the phrase acts as the key to understanding the whole poem. It provides the only instance in which Bernstein clearly elaborates on one of his phrases. Indeed up to the point in which the author uses the phrase in question, the poem does not really make much sense to the reader, highlighting it importance.

Without the phrase, the sentence describing the actions of the author’s father does not seem out of the ordinary. In fact, after only reading the first part, a reader may be forgiven for thinking that his father works in a factory that produces women’s clothes. However, the phrase, plus the subsequent sentence in which the author claims that his mother could not care less about the activities that his father engages in, confirms that his father does not literally push “…a line of ladies’ clothes.” The reader is then able to deduce that his father was being unfaithful to his mother, and had done so a number of times, a situation which her mother seemed to care less about. From this point, the reader is forced to read critically and analytically, observing for any instances in which the author uses the word line, following the realization that it is used connotatively.

This can also be seen in other instances within the poem, in which the author uses the word line to construct metaphors. For example, when referring to the seriousness Russians attach to their bloodline, he asserts that they attach great significance to “long lines,” presumably referring to their preference for having a long clear lineage. In contrast, Americans seemingly prefer to have “soup lines,” implying that they do not attach similar significance to the blood line, instead simply seeing it as a beneficial relationship that ought to be exploited. Without having read the initial phrase, these connotations would not be very clear, as most readers would simply take the sentence at its face value, completely missing the point the poem is making.

The phrase further indicates how the author uses the word line to draw contrasts between phenomena; essentially using it for its denotative meaning. Similar to the phrase in question, each time the poet uses the word line, he provides two sides to an argument, implying that he is literally drawing a line, before describing what exists on each side of the line. Whereas the poet’s father is promiscuous on one side, his mother is seemingly unfazed, and could care less for his father’s transgressions. This pattern is repeated throughout the poem, but is only obvious in this phrase. Once the reader understands and recognizes this obvious pattern, they can expect that in every sentence of phrase in which the author uses the word “line,” two sides of an argument are presented. For example, when the poet refers to the Russians’ preference for long lines, he contrasts this by highlighting the Americans’ preference for soup lines when it came to bloodlines.

The phrase, “My father pushed a line of ladies’ dresses – not down the street in a pushcart but upstairs in a fact’ry office. My mother has been more concerned with her hemline,” offers the reader a glimpse into the poet’s frame of mind and thinking when writing the poem (Booth and Mays 547). It holds the key to understanding the poem, as contains an elaboration by the author. Instead of simply saying, “My father pushed a line of ladies’ dresses. My mother has been more concerned with her hemline,” as he does in most of the poem, the poet opts to include an elaboration that highlights the connotation behind the use of the word “line.”

Work Cited

Booth, Alison and Mays, Kelly J., eds. The Norton Introduction to Literature: Portable Tenth Edition. New York: Norton, 2011.

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