AP English Lit
December 20, 2010
I The People – Explication
When people feel like being cryptic and pretentious, they write poetry. When people feel like writing in a way where nearly no rules or limits apply, they write poetry. When people feel like creating a mash-up of words and letters and attempt to pass it off as literature, they write poetry. When people want to write something that frustrates others, and only gains merit through its bewildering ability to dumbfound people into states of awe, they write poetry. Alice Notley writes poetry. Her poem “I The People” is an incoherent mess of nonsense and the confusion it bestows apparently tries to pass on some apparition of a message concerning human behavioral patterns. [
yes I’m mad]
Her first line is the same as the title. It begins, “I the people”. What
the hell does that mean? In a literal sense it appears she, or the narrator, is trying to bind the conscience of the entire human race into her own being, essentially saying that she is the sole representative of human thought. The narrator is the sole representative of human thought and existence. Okay. The next line makes some kind of reference to the future, stating “to the things that are were and come to be”. It is likely that she is implying that the human conscience or state of mind will continue to be as it is for a long period of time to come. Her next line concerning becoming what we once knew through making love seems to imply that humans return to their natural instincts when consummating their love. But this is the only time when humans return to instincts. It seems the narrator believes that human behavior at all other times aside from this defy instinct and go on another, more artificial path. The fact that she indents nearly every other line may allude to the intangible gap between ancient instinct and modern behavior.
After a bunch of gibberish concerning flow gold, silver, and various other liquids, she repeats the line about “things that are were and come to be”. But now she emphasizes the human discovery of numbers, and how this discovery led us to become “masters” of hearing and saying. Perhaps she is alluding to the fact that the human discovery of knowledge, and our subsequent intellectual evolution, threw a major dent into the instinctual engine of humanity. Rather than relying on instinct all the time, we gained the means to think independently and solve problems using out of the box solutions with science. The narrator continues to emphasize the contrast between instinct and today’s behavior by bringing up mention of a cold and lifeless wedding. She alludes to how only in love do the instincts return, and even then only for the biological purpose of reproduction and the continuation of our species. She ends saying that “I the people am still parted in two and would cry”, referring to how the human psyche is divided between instinct and modern logical and scientific patterns – an event she apparently interprets to be tragic.