Flames And Dangling Wire

Flames and Dangling Wire #

All societies produce waste. Historians believe that one of the reasons nomadic Hunters and Gathers moved on, is because they had fouled their campsites. Industrial societies initially produced durable goods, however in the late 1980’s realised that planned obsolescence improved their profit margins. White goods such as stoves, fridges.. had life spans of 30 – 50 years, but now are designed to wear out after 10. Cars and computers become outdated after about three years to keep up demand for new products. Mobile phones are lucky to last 2 years – new models come out every six months to a year. More and more of all manufacturing is producing readily disposable goods. For more on consumerism see side menu.

While some of these products can be recycled, much of it ends up as land fill. Whether the earth can sustain so much waste is a serious concern. Rather than resilient, nature is fragile and vulnerable when fundamental natural rhythms are ceaselessly destroyed by ruthless exploitation by ever increasing mammoth technology and disposable goods. If Ecosystems are repeatedly defeated, human life will be diminished and likely extinguished

I Subject Matter: #

The persona and a friend drive down a gravel road to a garbage tip near a large city covered with permanent Iow sour smoke amid the detritus of modern throw-away civilisations. The scenes appear out of hell, Hades or Dante’s Inferno with continuous smoke, scavengers and the manager appearing likes devils. The poem does end in hope with the affirmation of life represented by the Dangling Wire which might just be sending out aesthetic music of Chopin into the limitless outer space"

II Themes: #

  • Commercialism and consumerism in large cities has gone out of control

  • A disposable society is creating massive rubbish that some people have to dispose of.

  • We are being swamped by trash.

  • Work for many people is hellish. The scavengers are desperate soul less and dehumanised.

  • Genocide - the cars like skulls (PoI Pot?)

  • Environmental degradation, overpopulation, technological proliferation and breakdown

  • Spiritual aridity and cultural disintegration.

Not all despair; there is still some beauty in life.

III Sound Effects: #

Read the poem aloud, Comment on the Sound Effects, verbal music, its rhyme, rhythm and melody. Assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc. BIending repetition pattern, slow fast movement Melody, tone, mood atmosphere, voice.

The tone is gloomy, full of angst, dread desolation almost despair. The images evoke a hellish atmosphere; very unappealing. It is the melancholy of Hamlet, hopelessness of Hopkins, the doom saying of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, or the sepulchral weltschmerz of Dante’s Inferno. This is nature overwhelmed by man.

IV. Poetic Technique: #

Structure*: linear, circular, episodic, flash backs, climatic. Images: (visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, gustatory)figures of speech: similes, metaphors, personification, analogy, synecdoche, contrast, antithesis, unity, irony, Allusions, etc*

The three stanzas to approach the dump are written in truncated or short sentence fragments. Images are impressionist in their effect. Gray has a precise grasp of sensory detail, often using all of the five senses.


  • The marshland - located near dump - undervalued area - yet the lungs of the world.

  • Always burning dump - Hell?

  • City - driven like stakes into the ground-Dracula like environmental violation.

  • Air wobbles - a fog over the sun. apocalyptic


  • Sour smoke - the attendants need overalls and goggles

  • Smell is huge blasting the mouth dry. - rotten newspaper and great cuds of cloth-


Amongst these vast grey sheds of heat

Auditory: (dangling wire)

the voices it received are still travelling /

…horse laughs, and the Chopin

Which was the sound of curtains lifting,

One time, to a coast of light


Smoke….. like fingers spread and dragged fke smudge.

City driven like stakes into the earth

Waterbird lifts as a turtle moves on the Galapagos shore

Cars like skulls

Sour smoke is hauled ….thin like rope

Scavengers as in hell the devils

Something flaps like the rag held up in “The Raft ofthe Medusa

His eyes are wet as an oyster, and red


All the air wobbles in some cheap mirror

Distant buildings stencilled in the smoke

Landscape oftin cans, ofcars

Great cuds of cloth

Sounds of the curtains lifting to a coast of light


“The Raft of Medusa’’ - 19th C. painting by Frenchman, Gericault, where a rag is held aloft dramatically in a futile rescue attempt.

“That demon with the long barge pole” - Ferryman Charon who carries the dead to Hades.

Music of Chopin The high classical culture of the past contrasted with present decline regrets the transitoriness of civilisation.


Images o Despair Images of Hope

Smudge/ always burning dump bird lifts above this swamp

City driven like stakes into the earth horse laughs

Cars like skulls Chopin

Scavengers as in hell - the devils curtain lifting

Tons of rotten newspaper/cuds of cloth coast of light


Approach*: Subjective/Objective, Attitude or** **Tone, Audience, Style: diction, word play, puns, connotative/denotative, emotive (coloured biased,) /demotive, (technical, dispassionate) clichés, proverbial, idiomatic, expressive, flat, Jargon, euphemisms, pejorative, oxymoron. **Gender **biases. Register: formal, stiff, dignified or Colloquial; relaxed, conversational, inclusive, friendly or Slang; colourful, intimate, Rhetorical devices; Questions, exclamations, cumulation, crescendo, inversion, bathos, repetition, 3 cornered phrases. *

More emotive than most of his other poems; more pejoratives than euphemisms;

Pejorative Euphemism

eg: dump rather than waste disposal.

Swamp wet lands

Coloured language:

/ claim

Stake - tomato

\ vampires

smudge, driven like stakes, rotten, unidentifiable mulch,

Evaluation #

This is one of Gray’s more mature poems where he displays his linguistic features of strong verbs, truncated sentences and ellipsis – messages are implicit and we need to fill in the gaps. The sparse or minimal wording requires us to engage our faculties to process our own interpretations. Like Emily Dickinson he uses punctuation; lots of commas, hyphens, dashes as a minefield of pregnant pauses forcing us to reflect on possible meanings. This can provide us with a deeper and longer lasting satisfaction as we read and contemplate the rich textures and possibilities.

His overriding themes include: commercialism and its destructive effects on the environment and degradation of the human spirit, urbanisation and its dehumanising effects, the journey motif as a voyage of self - discovery and personal isolation; our fragility, aloneness as we stare into the void, the emptiness, the abyss.