'1926' by Weldon Kees

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The porchlight coming on again,
Early November, the dead leaves
Raked in piles, the wicker swing
Creaking. Across the lots
A phonograph is playing Ja-Da.

An orange moon. I see the lives
Of neighbors, mapped and marred
Like all the wars ahead, and R.
Insane, B. with his throat cut,
Fifteen years from now, in Omaha.

I did not know them then.
My airedale scratches at the door.
And I am back from seeing Milton Sills
And Doris Kenyon. Twelve years old.
The porchlight coming on again.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"1926" by Weldon Kees: A Deep Dive into the Poetic Mind

Have you ever read a poem that leaves you feeling like you've been punched in the gut? That's exactly how I felt after reading "1926" by Weldon Kees. This poem is not for the faint-hearted or those looking for a light read. It's a dark and haunting piece that delves deep into the human psyche, exploring themes of mortality, loss, and the passing of time. But despite its heavy subject matter, "1926" is a work of art that demands attention and close analysis. So, let's dive in and explore the many layers of this complex and powerful poem.

Background and Context

Before we get into the poem itself, it's important to understand the context in which it was written. Weldon Kees was a poet, painter, and jazz musician who lived in the mid-twentieth century. He was part of the Beat movement, which emerged in the 1950s and rejected traditional values and conventions. Kees was known for his melancholic and introspective poetry, which often dealt with themes of alienation and existential angst.

"1926" was written in 1953, and it reflects the mood of post-war America. The country was experiencing a sense of disillusionment and anxiety, as people struggled to come to terms with the aftermath of World War II. Kees himself was going through a difficult time – he was dealing with personal issues, such as the breakdown of his marriage, and was reportedly worried about the possibility of a nuclear war. All of these factors contributed to the sense of gloom and despair that permeates "1926."

Form and Structure

One of the first things that strikes you about "1926" is its form and structure. The poem consists of nine stanzas, each with four lines. There is no strict rhyme scheme, but there are internal rhymes and assonance that create a musical quality to the poem. The lines are short and choppy, reflecting the fragmented and disjointed nature of the speaker's thoughts.

The structure of the poem is also significant. Each stanza begins with a different year, starting with 1926 and ending with 1953. This creates a sense of progression and the passage of time, as we see the speaker's life unfold before our eyes. However, the years are not presented in chronological order, which adds to the sense of confusion and disorientation in the poem.

Themes and Motifs

As mentioned earlier, "1926" deals with some weighty themes. One of the most prominent is mortality. The poem is full of references to death and decay, such as "bones in the earth" and "ghosts of dead dogs." The speaker is acutely aware of the passing of time and the inevitability of his own death. This is evident in lines such as "I am older than I was" and "I am dying." The repeated use of the word "ghosts" also creates a sense of the speaker being haunted by the past and the specter of death.

Another theme that runs throughout the poem is loss. The speaker is mourning the loss of his youth, his innocence, and his sense of purpose. He reflects on the things he used to love, such as jazz music and the city streets, but these things are now gone or changed beyond recognition. This creates a sense of nostalgia and longing, as the speaker yearns for a time that can never be recaptured.

The motif of dust and decay is also significant in "1926." The speaker describes himself as a "pile of dust" and laments the passing of time that has turned everything and everyone to dust. This creates a sense of futility and hopelessness, as the speaker realizes that everything is transient and will eventually crumble to dust.


So, what does it all mean? What is the speaker trying to convey through his melancholic musings? There are many possible interpretations of "1926," but here are a few that I found particularly compelling.

Firstly, the poem can be seen as a meditation on the passage of time and the impermanence of all things. The speaker is acutely aware of his own mortality and the inevitable decay of everything around him. This creates a sense of nihilism and hopelessness, as he realizes that everything he loves and cherishes will one day be gone.

However, there is also a sense of acceptance and resignation in the poem. The speaker is not railing against the passage of time or the inevitability of death, but rather acknowledging it as a fundamental part of life. This creates a sense of maturity and wisdom, as the speaker comes to terms with his own mortality and the ephemeral nature of all things.

Another interpretation of the poem is as a reflection on the loss of innocence and the disillusionment that comes with growing older. The speaker reflects on his youth with a sense of longing and nostalgia, but he also realizes that those times are gone forever. This creates a sense of sadness and regret, as the speaker mourns the loss of his youthful enthusiasm and idealism.

Finally, "1926" can also be seen as a commentary on the state of post-war America. The country was going through a period of great change and uncertainty, and the speaker reflects this in his own sense of disorientation and confusion. The repeated use of the word "ghosts" creates a sense of a haunted and haunted by the past, as the speaker struggles to come to terms with the present.


In conclusion, "1926" is a powerful and haunting poem that explores some of the most fundamental aspects of the human condition. It deals with themes of mortality, loss, and the passing of time, all of which are universal experiences that we can all relate to. Through its form and structure, as well as its use of motifs and imagery, the poem creates a sense of despair and nihilism, but also a sense of acceptance and resignation. Ultimately, "1926" is a work of art that demands close attention and careful analysis, and it is a testament to the skill and talent of its author, Weldon Kees.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

1926 by Weldon Kees: A Masterpiece of Modernist Poetry

Weldon Kees, an American poet, painter, and jazz musician, is known for his modernist poetry that explores themes of alienation, despair, and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world. His poem "1926" is a prime example of his unique style and vision, which combines vivid imagery, sharp irony, and a haunting sense of loss.

At first glance, "1926" seems like a simple nostalgic poem that celebrates the innocence and beauty of childhood. The opening lines set the tone:

"Summer for prose and lemons, for nakedness and languor, for the eternal idleness of the imagined return, for rare flutes and bare feet, and the August bedroom of tangled sheets and the Sunday salt, ah violin!"

The language is lush and sensual, evoking the lazy, dreamy atmosphere of a summer day. The images of lemons, flutes, and bare feet suggest a carefree, innocent world where pleasure and beauty are abundant. The reference to the "Sunday salt" adds a touch of religious ritual and mystery, hinting at the deeper meanings that lie beneath the surface.

However, as the poem progresses, the tone shifts from idyllic to ironic, as Kees exposes the dark side of the era and the world it created. He writes:

"Summer for bearing fruit, for the ocean to harvest, for the bee's wing, for going on regardless, for the contagious music that brings us, white black, together, on the dance floor, in lust or feeling rupture or collapse, for the god's weed and the prayer's frost, for the purge of speech into dialects not dear to the norm, for the high-tension wire and the protective coloration, and for the double mind in double talk of moving words."

Here, Kees shows us the contradictions and conflicts that underlie the seemingly innocent pleasures of summer. He mentions the harvest and the bee's wing, suggesting the hard work and exploitation that made them possible. He also alludes to the racial tensions and social inequalities that were rampant in the 1920s, with the reference to "white black, together, on the dance floor." The mention of "god's weed" and "purge of speech" hints at the moral and cultural upheavals of the era, as people experimented with new ideas and lifestyles.

The most striking image in this section is the "high-tension wire and the protective coloration," which suggests the danger and deception that lurked beneath the surface of modern life. The "double mind in double talk of moving words" captures the sense of confusion and disorientation that many people felt in the face of rapid change and conflicting values.

In the final stanza, Kees brings the poem full circle, returning to the theme of childhood and the loss of innocence:

"Summer for memories and for mourning; for childhood and its vanishing, for the adult who is still waiting. It's a time for mourning the secrets we've kept and the losses incurred, the iron breaches, the failures of the heart in love or in trust, in the bright promise belied by the days ahead. It's time to say what you can't say. Time to see as much as you can bear of it."

Here, Kees reminds us that summer is not just a time of pleasure and beauty, but also a time of loss and regret. The memories of childhood and the dreams of adulthood are intertwined, and both are marked by the pain of unfulfilled desires and broken promises. The phrase "the iron breaches" suggests the irreparable damage that has been done, while the reference to "failures of the heart" captures the emotional toll of these losses.

The final lines of the poem are both poignant and challenging, urging us to confront the truth of our lives and the world around us. Kees encourages us to speak the unspeakable, to face the darkness as well as the light, and to bear as much as we can of the reality that surrounds us.

In conclusion, "1926" is a masterpiece of modernist poetry that captures the contradictions and complexities of a pivotal era in American history. Through its vivid imagery, sharp irony, and haunting sense of loss, Kees reveals the hidden truths and unspoken fears that underlie the surface of modern life. The poem challenges us to confront these truths and to find meaning and beauty in the midst of the darkness.

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