1. Does the piece have a title? What does the title suggest about the language?
The title, Long as a Quart of Milk, is the vehicle of a simile--it compares the length of something we do not know to the length of a quart of milk. A quart of milk is a simple image anyone will know and suggests the language of the poem could be easy to digest; however, the ‘long’ makes the title more intriguing because we often do not think of measuring milk in its length.
2. Who is the speaker of the piece? What do we know about him or her? Does the speaker reflect on the experience with a particular attitude (tone)? Is there an identified auditor, a “you” in the poem to whom the language is being directed?
The speaker of the piece seems to be alone yet not lonely. The poem contains no hints to any specific traits like gender or role in society (for simplicity, I will refer to the speaker as he), but each stanza does indicate a sense of solitude.Throughout the poem the speaker is matter-of-fact and resolute in his/her description of life. The line “recite any street by heart to anyone who will listen” can create opposing tones of the speaker. From one view, the speaker is content with his life and enjoys this small act; but, from another view the line gives the speaker a melancholy tone. The speaker's initially humorous tone fades away in the second stanza as he delivers an impartial description of the neighbors. In the first line of the third stanza, the speaker’s seemingly weak tone abruptly switches to witty sarcasm. In the final stanza the speaker's melancholy tone indicates he is both content with his life and saddened by its solitude. Throughout the piece the speaker’s tone makes several shifts between humorous, resolute, and melancholy (content depending on reading)
3. What is the occasion which leads to the uttering of the language?
A one-night stand gone wrong inspires the first stanza and the woman next door yelling at her son inspires the second and third stanzas. The fourth stanza has no obvious origin. Perhaps the speaker contemplates life and find himself in this mental space or perhaps someone has asked why they have lived in the small apartment so long. Of course, it is possible a friend or colleague inquiring why the speaker still lives alone in his small apartment could spark this thought; however, I see the speaker as a contemplative person who may stumble upon this train of thought at any moment.
4. Does the language relate a sequence of events (narrative)? Is the narrative central to the meaning of the language or to the experience being shared?
The first two stanzas of the poem are clearly narrative. One tells the tale of a one-night-stand gone wrong while the next follows the neighbor next door disciplining her son. The last both describe parts of the speaker's life, they are the speaker’s thoughts and contribute to the story the poem tells but are not narratives in themselves.
5. Does the language play with sound in any way? Does this sound-play point your attention to specific words or phrases central to the meaning? Does this sound-play indicate mood or attitude.
The poem has no clear rhyme scheme or meter to the poem.
6. What images does the poem employ? Is the image central to the reader’s experience of the poem?
The poem is filled with imagery. The first stanza alone, if taken literally, has readers imagining an extremely inebriated speaker genuinely attempting to undress a tree, quite humorous image. The second stanza clearly depicts the woman ‘dressed like the English countryside’ yelling at her bratty child. Everyone has seen a parent yell at a spoiled child in public. The third stanza implies the olfactory image of rotten milk everyone has seen and unfortunately smelled before. In the last stanza, readers imagine a tenement apartment building. The building, ‘looking like Lou Reed’, is presumable darker than the rest in the neighborhood--maybe Brooklyn where Reed was born--being as rebellious as a building can be. The imagery of the poem allows readers to see the speaker's life through his eyes. It makes the poem real.
7. Does the language suggest an idea or theme? Is the idea central to the reader’s experience of the poem?
The poems inspires thought about solitude. There is no clear commentary on this theme, but readers are forced to consider whether solitude naturally gives way to loneliness or if it possible to be contentedly alone. The poem also inspires thought about action and change in life. The first stanza is unique in that the speaker is acting and makes a change in his life by eliminating one night stands. The following three stanzas offer the speaker’s thoughts on his neighbors and his apartment building, but he is not taking action or making any changes (not intervening for the son and not moving.) He also interacts with ‘anyone who will listen’ which implies there are no permanent figures in his life. The poem does not make any suggestions about solitude, action, or change, but simply inspires readers to consider the ideas.
8. Does the language inspire any emotional response? Is the emotion central? Specifically, what words or phrases in language evoke these feelings?
The humor throughout the first three stanzas forces me to smile and appreciate the humor in everyday life. Stanza three is something sarcastic enough to come out of my own mouth and I feel connected to the speaker. In stanza four I think of my own room at home that, with its heavy door shut, feels like my own “small studio” apartment. The rock posters on my walls are a stark “Lou Reed”-like contrast to the simple and muted style of my house. “I’ve lived here for awhile and have no plans of moving” makes me realize that I have plans of moving as my senior year is coming to an end and I will soon be leaving my home of 10 plus years forever. The last few lines of stanza four remind me of the four-year seniors here on campus, myself included, because we have been at Tilton so long that we too “can recite any street by heart”.
9. Does the language play with words by “twisting” meaning? What is the effect of these twists, tropes or figures?
The poem is full of figurative language. If taken figuratively, “I undressed a tree” is a metaphor comparing the speakers one-night stand to a tree which inspires humor. The line :got a splinter in my thumb” could represent any unfortunate consequence of a one-night stand from being the ‘other-person’ to acquiring an STD. The speaker uses simile to compare his neighbor’s attire to that of the English countryside, metonymy for old-fashioned appearance. In stanza three, the speaker compares the spoiled son to a quart of milk using the first type of metaphor. In this stanza, spoiled signifies both bratty (as in a child) and rotten (as in milk). The word “fresh” also has two meanings: smart-mouthed (as in child) and fresh (as in food). The speaker also compares the length of the son’s ‘freshness’ to that of a quart of milk using simile. In stanza four, the speaker compares his tenement building to Lou Reed with simile.
10. Does the language use representation? Are these symbols central to the idea of the poem?
The language does not employ symbolism overtly, but through the use of ideas. For example, the last few lines of the fourth stanza are not an image representative of another idea, but the idea of reciting every street by name is symbolic. It is symbolic of familiarity and comfort.
11. Does the language play with the reader’s expectations or sense of reality? Are these points of irony and paradox central to the idea of the poem?
There are two main points of irony within the poem: In the first verse where the speaker retells his one-night stand with a tree (situational Irony) and in the third verse where the speaker sarcastically discusses his wish to help the boy next door.
12. Does the language have an overall structure or pattern? What keywords or phrases echo in the language? Is the language structured into parts (stanzas)? Does the language employ a traditional form? Is the reader’s apprehension of the experience enhanced by the poetic structure?
The poem is an augmented monometric of four stanzas.The first is four lines and each increases in length by one line until the last which is seven lines. The poem does not, however, exhibit the characteristic rhyme of monometric.
13. Overall, what is artful about the language? In what imaginative, intellectual, sensual or emotional way(s) does the language represent the complexity of human experience?
The artful nature of this poem comes from the connections we form with the speaker. At one point or another, everyone has felt alone in the world just as this speaker finds himself. Ironically, we bond with the reader over solitude and learn about being alone without being lonely.
Similar to Springsteen’s “Meeting Across the River”, the reader recognizes dramatic irony. Springsteen sings of an illicit meeting across the river, hopeful for the large payoff he has been promised, but the audience knows it is a set up--the meeting will inevitably go wrong. In “Long as a Quart of Milk” the speaker comments on his solitary living situation contentedly, but readers know his life here cannot last forever. Though he may be content now, the feeling will not last. One day he will have to move, find a partner, and forget his raucous neighbors.
14. Finally, is the language valuable? Is it worth reading?
The poem provides value because it presents an extremely complex aspect of the human experience--solitude--in a realistic and honest way.
15. What-How Statement.
The satirical humor, narrative, imagery, metaphor, simile, metonymy, and irony of the poem offer amusing commentary on one night stands and inspire contemplation of solitude and its role in the human experience.