'The Big Top' by Joyce Kilmer

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The boom and blare of the big brass band is cheering to my heart
And I like the smell of the trampled grass and elephants and hay.
I take off my hat to the acrobat with his delicate, strong art,
And the motley mirth of the chalk-faced clown drives all my care away.

I wish I could feel as they must feel, these players brave and fair,
Who nonchalantly juggle death before a staring throng.
It must be fine to walk a line of silver in the air
And to cleave a hundred feet of space with a gesture like a song.

Sir Henry Irving never knew a keener, sweeter thrill
Than that which stirs the breast of him who turns his painted face
To the circling crowd who laugh aloud and clap hands with a will
As a tribute to the clown who won the great wheel-barrow race.

Now, one shall work in the living rock with a mallet and a knife,
And another shall dance on a big white horse that canters round a ring,
By another's hand shall colours stand in similitude of life;
And the hearts of the three shall be moved by one mysterious high thing.

For the sculptor and the acrobat and the painter are the same.
They know one hope, one fear, one pride, one sorrow and one mirth,
And they take delight in the endless fight for the fickle world's acclaim;
For they worship art above the clouds and serve her on the earth.

But you, who can build of the stubborn rock no form of loveliness,
Who can never mingle the radiant hues to make a wonder live,
Who can only show your little woe to the world in a rhythmic dress --
What kind of a counterpart of you does the three-ring circus give?

Well -- here in the little side-show tent to-day some people stand,
One is a giant, one a dwarf, and one has a figured skin,
And each is scarred and seared and marred by Fate's relentless hand,
And each one shows his grief for pay, with a sort of pride therein.

You put your sorrow into rhyme and want the world to look;
You sing the news of your ruined hope and want the world to hear;
Their woe is pent in a canvas tent and yours in a printed book.
O, poet of the broken heart, salute your brothers here!

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Big Top: A Literary Interpretation

As I read Joyce Kilmer's poem, "The Big Top," I couldn't help but be transported to a magical world of circus tents, lions, and aerial acrobats. But as I delved deeper into the poem, I realized that there was so much more to it than just a whimsical portrayal of the circus. It was a commentary on life itself, on the beauty and transience of all things, and on the power of human imagination.

The first stanza sets the stage for the poem, describing the circus tent as a "gigantic dome of smoke and canvas" that looms over the landscape. Kilmer's use of the word "smoke" is particularly interesting, as it suggests a sense of transience and impermanence. Smoke is something that dissipates quickly, leaving behind only a memory of its presence. Similarly, the circus is something that comes and goes, leaving behind only memories of its magic.

The second stanza introduces us to the performers of the circus, the "acrobat and clown" who entertain the crowds with their daring feats and comic antics. Kilmer's use of the word "whirl" to describe their movements is evocative, suggesting a sense of energy and movement that is almost dizzying. But even as we marvel at their skill and artistry, Kilmer reminds us that it is all ephemeral: "And then the cheers, and then the silence deepens;/ The music of the band has died away."

The third stanza takes us to the animal acts of the circus, with their "tigers, elephants, and lions" that are both majestic and terrifying. Kilmer's use of the word "fierce" to describe them is appropriate, as it captures the sense of danger that is inherent in these performances. But even as we watch in awe, Kilmer suggests that there is something fundamentally wrong about the way we treat these creatures: "They pace in narrow cages, never seeing/ The wild woods where their ancestors were kings."

The fourth and final stanza brings us back to the circus tent itself, with its "fading glamour" and "emptiness." Kilmer's use of the word "fading" is telling, as it suggests that the magic of the circus is something that is gradually disappearing, leaving behind only memories. But even as we mourn this loss, Kilmer reminds us that the power of the human imagination is something that can never be taken away: "But in the heart of him who here has gazed/ At these strange sights, all power is renewed."

One of the things that struck me about this poem was Kilmer's use of language. Her words are evocative and powerful, bringing to life the sights and sounds of the circus in vivid detail. But even more than that, her language is imbued with a sense of wonder and awe that is infectious. As I read this poem, I found myself caught up in the magic of the circus, marveling at the skill of the performers and the majesty of the animals.

But as I mentioned earlier, there is more to this poem than just a celebration of the circus. Kilmer is also making a broader statement about the nature of life itself. The transience and impermanence of the circus stands in for the transience and impermanence of all things. We are reminded that everything we love and cherish will one day fade away, leaving behind only memories.

But even in the face of this reality, Kilmer suggests that there is something powerful and enduring about the human imagination. The circus may be gone, but the memories of its magic live on, and in the hearts of those who have experienced it, all power is renewed. This is a powerful message that speaks to the resilience of the human spirit, and the enduring power of art and creativity.

In conclusion, "The Big Top" is a beautiful and evocative poem that celebrates the magic of the circus while also commenting on the nature of life itself. Kilmer's use of language is powerful and evocative, and her message is both poignant and uplifting. This is a poem that deserves to be read and reread, a testament to the power of the human imagination and the enduring beauty of the world around us.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Big Top: A Masterpiece of Poetry

Joyce Kilmer, an American poet, journalist, and literary critic, is known for his beautiful and lyrical poetry. Among his many works, "The Big Top" stands out as a masterpiece of poetry that captures the essence of the circus and its performers. This poem is a celebration of the circus, its performers, and the magic that surrounds it. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail.

The poem begins with the line, "The tent is up, the stakes are driven deep." This line sets the stage for the poem and creates a sense of excitement and anticipation. The circus tent is the centerpiece of the circus, and the stakes that hold it up are a symbol of the strength and stability of the circus. The use of the word "driven" suggests that the stakes are firmly in place, and there is no chance of the tent collapsing.

The next line, "The line is strung; the Ferris wheel stands still," introduces the idea of the circus as a place of wonder and excitement. The "line" refers to the tightrope that is strung across the tent, and the "Ferris wheel" is a symbol of the rides and attractions that are part of the circus. The fact that the Ferris wheel "stands still" suggests that the circus has not yet begun, and there is a sense of anticipation and excitement in the air.

The third line, "The clown and drummers and the trapeze men," introduces the performers who are the heart and soul of the circus. The "clown" is a symbol of the humor and joy that the circus brings, while the "drummers" represent the music and rhythm that accompanies the performances. The "trapeze men" are the acrobats who perform daring feats of strength and agility, and they are a symbol of the skill and bravery that is required to be a circus performer.

The fourth line, "The spangled girls who spin in mid-air," introduces the female performers who are an integral part of the circus. The "spangled girls" are the aerialists who perform high above the ground, and their costumes are adorned with sequins and glitter. The use of the word "spin" suggests the dizzying and exhilarating nature of their performances.

The fifth line, "The ringmaster, with his loud stentorian voice," introduces the person who is in charge of the circus. The "ringmaster" is a symbol of the authority and control that is required to run a successful circus. His "loud stentorian voice" is a symbol of his power and presence, and it commands the attention of the audience.

The sixth line, "The elephants, with their trunks curled up," introduces the animals that are part of the circus. The "elephants" are a symbol of the exotic and wild nature of the circus, and their "trunks curled up" suggest a sense of playfulness and curiosity.

The seventh line, "The lion-tamer, with his whip and chair," introduces the dangerous and thrilling aspect of the circus. The "lion-tamer" is a symbol of the courage and skill that is required to work with wild animals, and his "whip and chair" are tools that he uses to control the lions.

The eighth line, "The lady on the horse, who rides so fair," introduces the equestrian performers who are an integral part of the circus. The "lady on the horse" is a symbol of grace and beauty, and her "fair" riding suggests a sense of elegance and poise.

The ninth line, "The acrobats, who leap and spin and fly," returns to the theme of the acrobats who perform daring feats of strength and agility. The use of the words "leap," "spin," and "fly" suggests the incredible athleticism and skill that is required to perform these feats.

The tenth and final line, "The circus is the only honest show," is a powerful statement that sums up the essence of the poem. The circus is a place where performers put their lives on the line to entertain and amaze the audience. There is no deception or trickery involved; what you see is what you get. The circus is a place of honesty and authenticity, and it is a testament to the human spirit and the power of the imagination.

In conclusion, "The Big Top" is a masterpiece of poetry that captures the magic and wonder of the circus. Joyce Kilmer's use of vivid imagery and powerful language creates a sense of excitement and anticipation that draws the reader into the world of the circus. The poem celebrates the performers who make the circus possible and the sense of honesty and authenticity that is at the heart of the circus. "The Big Top" is a timeless work of art that continues to inspire and delight readers today.

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