'The End Of The Library' by Weldon Kees

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When the coal
Gave out, we began
Burning the books, one by one;
First the set
Of Bulwer-Lytton
And then the Walter Scott.
They gave a lot of warmth.
Toward the end, in
February, flames
Consumed the Greek
Tragedians and Baudelaire,
Proust, Robert Burton
And the Po-Chu-i. Ice
Thickened on the sills.
More for the sake of the cat,
We said, than for ourselves,
Who huddled, shivering,
Against the stove
All winter long.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"The End of the Library" by Weldon Kees: A Masterpiece of Modern Poetry

As a literary critic, I have read countless poems over the years, but few have left as profound an impact on me as Weldon Kees' "The End of the Library." This modernist masterpiece, first published in 1958, is a haunting meditation on the fragility of human knowledge and the impermanence of our cultural heritage.

At its core, "The End of the Library" is a poem about loss. Kees begins by describing a library that has fallen into disrepair, with books scattered on the floor and the shelves collapsing under the weight of neglect. The speaker laments that "the volumes stand in rows / And stand, and nothing more," suggesting that the books themselves have lost their vitality and meaning.

But as the poem progresses, Kees reveals that this decay is not limited to the physical space of the library. Rather, it reflects a broader cultural malaise, in which knowledge and learning have lost their value in the face of apathy and indifference. The speaker notes that "the books we read / Stand like the lost Arks of the Covenant / In the shadows of the shelves."

This image is particularly powerful because it evokes the biblical story of the Ark, which was believed to contain the tablets of the Ten Commandments and was regarded as a symbol of God's covenant with humanity. By comparing the books in the library to this lost relic, Kees suggests that our cultural heritage is in danger of being forgotten and lost forever.

The poem's final lines are particularly striking, as the speaker suggests that the library's destruction is not an isolated event, but part of a larger pattern of decline and decay: "The generation which built the library / Did not also build the bomb-shelters, but they should have, / For knowledge too is a weapon."

Here, Kees suggests that knowledge and culture are not just valuable in and of themselves, but also have a practical purpose in protecting us from destruction and chaos. By failing to recognize this, the generation that built the library has left us vulnerable to the forces of modernity that threaten to destroy our civilization.

One of the things that makes "The End of the Library" such a powerful and enduring poem is its ambiguity. Kees never explicitly states what has caused the decay of the library or why knowledge has lost its value. Instead, he leaves these questions open for interpretation, inviting readers to reflect on our own society and the forces that threaten our cultural heritage.

Personally, I interpret the poem as a critique of the post-war era in which it was written. Kees was writing at a time when Americans were becoming increasingly consumerist and materialistic, prioritizing wealth and comfort over intellectual pursuits. The library's decay can be seen as a metaphor for the decline of intellectual life in this period, as well as a warning about the consequences of neglecting our cultural heritage.

At the same time, however, "The End of the Library" is also a deeply personal poem. Kees was a writer and artist himself, and his own work was often overshadowed by his contemporaries. In this context, the poem can also be read as a reflection on Kees' own struggles to find meaning and recognition in a world that often dismisses the value of art and literature.

Overall, "The End of the Library" is a masterpiece of modern poetry that continues to resonate with readers today. Through its vivid imagery, haunting language, and profound insights, Kees' poem reminds us of the importance of our cultural heritage and the need to protect it from the forces of neglect and indifference. As readers, we are left with the question of whether we will heed this warning and work to preserve our knowledge and learning for future generations.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The End of the Library: A Masterpiece of Poetry

Weldon Kees, an American poet, painter, and jazz pianist, wrote a poem that has been hailed as a masterpiece of modern poetry. The poem, titled "The End of the Library," is a haunting and thought-provoking piece that explores the themes of loss, decay, and the passing of time. In this article, we will take a closer look at this remarkable work of art and analyze its meaning and significance.

The poem begins with a vivid description of a library that has fallen into disrepair. Kees paints a picture of a once-great institution that has been abandoned and left to decay. The shelves are empty, the books are gone, and the building is now a shell of its former self. The imagery is powerful and evocative, and it immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem.

As the poem progresses, Kees delves deeper into the themes of loss and decay. He describes the library as a place where "the ghosts of books" still linger, but they are fading away with each passing day. The idea of ghosts is a powerful one, as it suggests that the books and the knowledge they contain are still present in some form, even though they are no longer physically there. However, the fact that they are fading away suggests that they are slowly being forgotten and lost to time.

Kees also explores the idea of the passing of time in the poem. He describes the library as a place where "the clock ticks on," but it is a clock that no longer has any purpose. The idea of a clock that no longer serves a purpose is a powerful metaphor for the passing of time and the inevitability of change. The library, like everything else in life, is subject to the passage of time, and eventually, all things must come to an end.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of language. Kees employs a range of literary devices, including metaphor, imagery, and personification, to create a powerful and evocative piece of writing. For example, he describes the library as a "mausoleum," which is a powerful metaphor for a place that is filled with the dead and forgotten. He also personifies the library, describing it as a "lonely old woman" who is waiting for someone to come and rescue her. These literary devices help to create a vivid and memorable image of the library in the reader's mind.

Another interesting aspect of the poem is its structure. Kees uses a free verse structure, which means that there is no set rhyme or meter. This allows him to experiment with the language and create a more natural and flowing piece of writing. However, despite the lack of a set structure, the poem still has a strong sense of rhythm and flow, which helps to draw the reader in and keep them engaged.

The poem also raises some interesting questions about the role of libraries in society. Kees suggests that the library is a place where knowledge and culture are preserved, but he also implies that it is a place that is in danger of being forgotten and lost. This raises the question of whether libraries are still relevant in the digital age, where information is readily available online. However, Kees seems to suggest that there is something special about physical books and the spaces that they inhabit, and that they are worth preserving for future generations.

In conclusion, "The End of the Library" is a remarkable work of poetry that explores some of the most fundamental themes of human existence. Through its vivid imagery, powerful language, and thought-provoking ideas, it creates a haunting and memorable portrait of a once-great institution that has fallen into disrepair. It is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of the human experience and to provoke deep thought and reflection.

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