Poem #1 Your Name: Literature Review Sample
Jack Kerouac 1922-1969
Mexico City Blues
Got up and dressed up and went out & got laidThen died and got buried in a coffin in the grave,Man– Yet everything is perfect,Because it is empty,Because it is perfect with emptiness,Because it’s not even happening.
EverythingIs Ignorant of its own emptiness–AngerDoesn’t like to be reminded of fits–
You start with the Teaching Inscrutable of the DiamondAnd end with it, your goal is your starting place,No race has run, no walk of prophetic toenailsAcross Arabies of hot meaning–you just numbly don’t get there.
In Vain Your name:
Jack Kerouac, 1922 - 1969
The stars in the skyIn vainThe tragedy of Hamlet In vainThe key in the lock In vainThe sleeping mother In vainThe lamp in the corner In vainThe lamp in the corner unlit In vainAbraham Lincoln In vainThe Aztec empire In vainThe writing hand: in vain (The shoetrees in the shoes In vainThe window shade string upon the hand bible In vain— The glitter of the green glass
The life of Buddha
Mexico City Beat: a Jazzy Read
In the introduction to his volume of poetry, “Mexico City Blues,” Kerouac wrote that he wanted, “To be considered as a jazz poet blowing a long blues in an afternoon jazz session on Sunday.” (Kerouac, Everydaybeat.org, n.pa.). These two poems are both in that volume, and as such, can be perceived as part of a long jazzy piece of blues for poetry. I can see and hear the similarity to a horn blowing, for example, in the various cadences of his pieces.
These two pieces, “In Vain,” and “Mexico City Blues,” have the same rhyme scheme, which is none. They are written in the free-verse style, which is probably the only way that Kerouac could have written, being the Beat poet that he was. They do both share the technique of repetition. In “In Vain,” the words “in Vain” constitute every other phrase: “The key in the lock, In Vain, The sleeping mother, In Vain.” (Kerouac n. pa.). In “Mexico City Blues,” the technique of repetition is also used, as in, “Yet everything is perfect, Because it is empty, Because it is perfect/ with emptiness,” (Kerouac n. pa.). These repetitions serve the drive his points home; over and over it is all “in vain.” And “everything is ignorant of its own emptiness.”
“In Vain” also utilizes a visual technique that makes it look a little bit like a musical score. The words “In Vain” are gradually moved over to the right and then they back up almost to the beginning again. (The same does not occur in “Mexico City Blues; instead it is partly in quatrain form, but not faithfully.) One could almost play them on a horn!
My first interpretation of “In Vain” was that Kerouac was simply talking about death as the theme. Everything “in vain” because everything eventually dies, even the Buddha. But obviously his specific phrases have been chosen for specific reasons, so I dug a little more deeply. Some of the phrases seem very mundane: (“The shoetrees in the shoes”, particularly) (Kerouac n. pa.), whereas some of the subject matter seems quite profound: “The stars in the skyAbraham LincolnThe life of the Buddha.” (Kerouac n. pa.) Perhaps each line has a much deeper meaning, though it is hard to know for sure. “The stars in the sky”—does Kerouac mean that the cosmos itself has no meaning? Shakespeare, in vain? Is it a mother waiting for her child to come home (“The key in the lock,”) and does that have no meaning? “Abraham Lincoln:” no meaning to his fight against slavery? “The Aztec empire?” Is all of history in vain? And “The Life of the Buddha?” Is he saying that even the life of an enlightened being who passed his teachings along to millions ultimately has no meaning? As with many poems, the best I can do with understanding the poet’s meaning is speculate. (And Kerouac, being a beat poet, might laugh and say, “They have no meaning anyway!)
“Mexico City Blues” seems to have some of the same themes going on: “Everything/Is ignorant of its own emptiness.” (Kerouac n.pa.). In vain? No meaning? Emptiness? It certainly sounds like it from the opening quatrain: “Got up and dressed up/ and went out & got laid/ Then died and got buried/ in a coffin in the grave.” Life is in vain? Something like the Buddha also enters in here too: “Teaching/ Inscrutable of the Diamond/ And end with it, your goal/ is your starting place.” Both refer to esoteric Eastern philophical teachings: the Buddha and the Diamond. In “In Vain,” the life of the Buddha is in vain, and in this poem, the Inscrutable takes you back to your starting place. Both poems feel kind of like “downers,” but both are intriguing,
different from the norm, and great representations of the generation of beat poetry.
Kerouac, Jack. (from Mexico City Blues) www.Everydaybeat.org, (n.p., n.d., n. pa.).
Kerouac, Jack. In Vain. www.poets.org, (n.p., n.d., n. pa.).
Kerouac,Jack. Mexico City Blues. www.poets.org, (n.p., n.d., n. pa.).
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