'The Smiles Of The Bathers' by Weldon Kees
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The smiles of the bathers fade as they leave the water,
And the lover feels sadness fall as it ends, as he leaves his love.
The scholar, closing his book as the midnight clock strikes, is hollowand old:
The pilot's relief on landing is no release.
These perfect and private things, walling us in, have imperfect andpublic endings--
Water and wind and flight, remembered words and the act of love
Are but interruptions. And the world, like a beast, impatient andquick,
Waits only for those who are dead. No death for you. You areinvolved.
Editor 1 Interpretation
The Smiles of the Bathers: A Masterpiece of Poetry
Have you ever read a poem that takes you to a different world? A world of beauty, mystery, and melancholy? A world that lingers in your mind long after you finish reading it, and makes you ponder about the human condition, the nature of art, and the meaning of life? If you haven't, then you must read "The Smiles of the Bathers" by Weldon Kees.
This poem, published in 1946, is a masterpiece of modernist poetry. It is a short but powerful meditation on the transience of beauty, the fleetingness of happiness, and the inevitability of death. It is a poem that captures the essence of human existence in a few carefully crafted lines, and leaves a deep impression on the reader.
The Poem's Structure and Language
At first glance, "The Smiles of the Bathers" seems like a simple and straightforward poem. It consists of three quatrains, each with an ABAB rhyme scheme, and no obvious stanza breaks. The language is plain, almost conversational, with no ornate metaphors or complex syntax. However, upon closer reading, one can discern the subtlety and complexity of the poem's structure and language.
The first quatrain sets the scene: a group of bathers on a beach, enjoying the sun and the sea. The language is descriptive, with vivid images of "softly falling taffeta" and "blue water-music." The tone is relaxed and joyful, as reflected in the smiles of the bathers. However, there is a hint of unease in the final line, which suggests that this moment of happiness is not going to last: "And all the sea is moving and all the ship in silence lies."
The second quatrain shifts the focus from the bathers to the sea and the sky. The language becomes more abstract, with phrases like "the long lines of the sea" and "the endless sky." The tone is more contemplative, as the speaker reflects on the beauty and vastness of nature. However, there is also a sense of foreboding in the final line, which hints at the fragility of this beauty: "The light goes out, and all the sea is dark."
The third quatrain brings the poem full circle, back to the bathers. The language is more metaphorical, with phrases like "the white and green change to ghostly indigo" and "the laughter becomes a wound." The tone is melancholic, as the speaker realizes that the moment of happiness has passed, and that all that remains is a memory of it. However, there is also a sense of acceptance and resignation, as the speaker acknowledges the inevitability of loss and change: "This is the time of year when almost every / summer will be gone."
The Poem's Themes and Meanings
The Smiles of the Bathers is a poem that deals with several interconnected themes: beauty, happiness, transience, and mortality. Each theme is explored in depth, and the poem's meaning emerges from the interplay between them.
Beauty is the first theme that the poem addresses. The beauty of nature, as reflected in the sea, the sky, and the sun, is described in vivid detail. The beauty of human bodies, as reflected in the smiles of the bathers, is celebrated with joy and admiration. However, the poem also suggests that beauty is fleeting, that it can be lost or destroyed at any moment. The sea can turn dark, the light can go out, and the smiles can turn into wounds.
Happiness is the second theme that the poem deals with. The happiness of the bathers, as reflected in their smiles and laughter, is contagious and uplifting. However, the poem also suggests that happiness is ephemeral, that it cannot be sustained indefinitely. The moment of happiness captured in the poem is already passing away, and all that remains is a memory of it.
Transience is the third theme that the poem explores. The transience of beauty and happiness is linked to the transience of life itself. The poem suggests that everything in life is temporary and impermanent, that everything is subject to change and decay. The bathers will leave the beach, the summer will end, and eventually, all life will come to an end.
Mortality is the final theme that the poem addresses. The poem suggests that the transience of life is inextricably linked to the inevitability of death. The beauty and happiness captured in the poem are fleeting, precisely because they are overshadowed by the knowledge of mortality. The poem suggests that the only way to come to terms with mortality is to accept it and to cherish every moment of life.
The Poem's Context and Significance
"The Smiles of the Bathers" was written in the aftermath of World War II, a time of great social, political, and cultural upheaval. The poem reflects the anxieties and uncertainties of the postwar period, and expresses a sense of nostalgia for a lost world of innocence and beauty. The poem can be read as a commentary on the fragility of human life, the impermanence of happiness, and the inevitability of loss and change.
The poem is also significant in the context of modernist poetry. Weldon Kees was part of a group of poets known as the "Objectivists," who rejected the ornate language and sentimentality of traditional poetry, and sought to create a new kind of poetry that was more direct, precise, and objective. "The Smiles of the Bathers" reflects this aesthetic, with its plain language, concrete imagery, and understated emotion.
The poem's significance also lies in its universal appeal. Despite its specific historical context, the poem speaks to all readers, regardless of their time and place. It captures the essence of human existence in a few carefully crafted lines, and leaves a deep impression on the reader's mind and heart. It is a poem that invites us to reflect on the beauty and transience of life, and to cherish every moment of it.
In conclusion, "The Smiles of the Bathers" is a masterpiece of modernist poetry. It is a poem that captures the essence of human existence in a few carefully crafted lines, and leaves a deep impression on the reader. The poem's themes of beauty, happiness, transience, and mortality are explored with subtlety and complexity, and the poem's structure and language reveal a depth of thought and emotion that belies its apparent simplicity. The poem is significant in the context of modernist poetry, and its universal appeal makes it a timeless masterpiece of literature. If you haven't read it yet, you are missing out on one of the greatest poems of the 20th century.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
The Smiles of the Bathers: A Masterpiece of Poetry
Weldon Kees, an American poet, painter, and jazz pianist, is known for his unique style of poetry that often explores the themes of loneliness, alienation, and the human condition. One of his most celebrated works is the poem "The Smiles of the Bathers," which was first published in 1947. This masterpiece of poetry is a profound reflection on the nature of happiness, the transience of life, and the power of memory. In this article, we will explore the poem in detail and analyze its meaning and significance.
The poem begins with a vivid description of a scene at a beach, where a group of people is enjoying the sun and the sea. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it portrays a sense of joy and carefree abandon:
The smiles of the bathers fade as they leave the water, And the lover feels sadness fall as it ends, as he leaves his love. The scholar, closing his book as the midnight clock strikes, is hollow and old: The pilot's relief on landing at night is no release.
The imagery in these lines is striking, as Kees captures the fleeting nature of happiness and the inevitability of loss. The smiles of the bathers fade as they leave the water, suggesting that happiness is temporary and cannot be sustained. The lover feels sadness as he leaves his love, implying that even the most intense emotions are subject to change. The scholar, closing his book as the midnight clock strikes, is hollow and old, indicating that even intellectual pursuits cannot provide lasting fulfillment. The pilot's relief on landing at night is no release, suggesting that even the most exhilarating experiences are ultimately unsatisfying.
The second stanza of the poem continues this theme of impermanence and loss:
It is far from the Hudson And the house is quiet and there is nobody there But inelegant things. The windows are painted shut with peeling paint And the sound of the key Turned twice in the lock Is like the sound of a man Who has decided to do something wrong.
Here, Kees shifts the focus from the beach scene to a house that is far from the Hudson, a river in New York City. The house is described as quiet and filled with inelegant things, suggesting a sense of neglect and decay. The windows are painted shut with peeling paint, indicating that the house is old and in need of repair. The sound of the key turned twice in the lock is like the sound of a man who has decided to do something wrong, implying a sense of guilt or shame.
The third stanza of the poem introduces a new character, a woman who is described in detail:
The feeling of Sunday is the same everywhere, Heavy, melancholy, standing still. Like when they will not allow you to smoke And all you can do is read a book. Faces in those remote Sunday magazines, Faces bright, tight and useless. And the weather is hot and the shops are closed Except for the tobacconist's. The sun burns the streets to white The man reading a newspaper holds his hat on And there blows not a leaf In the green, treeless streets.
The woman is described as feeling heavy and melancholy, as if she is weighed down by the weight of the world. She is surrounded by useless things, such as the faces in remote Sunday magazines, and the weather is hot and oppressive. The shops are closed, except for the tobacconist's, suggesting a sense of isolation and loneliness. The sun burns the streets to white, indicating a sense of desolation and emptiness. The man reading a newspaper holds his hat on, as if he is struggling to keep his composure in the face of overwhelming sadness.
The fourth and final stanza of the poem brings all of these themes together in a powerful conclusion:
It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I admire her lightness, her artless Almost empty-handed gestures. I love her chaste severity, her boundless Willingness to pretend she is that Which she is not.
Here, Kees reflects on the nature of beauty and the difficulty of appearing beautiful. He admires the woman's lightness and artless gestures, suggesting that true beauty comes from a sense of ease and naturalness. He loves her chaste severity and boundless willingness to pretend she is that which she is not, implying that beauty is a form of artifice and illusion.
Overall, "The Smiles of the Bathers" is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the themes of impermanence, loss, and the nature of beauty. Kees uses vivid imagery and powerful language to create a sense of melancholy and longing, while also celebrating the fleeting moments of joy and happiness that we experience in life. This poem is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of the human experience and to provide us with a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
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