Analysis Of Ferlinghetti’s A Vast Confusion Writing Sample

In a way, this poem is a verbal collage, a vast confusion of created mind images used to convey a mood, a message or just an observation. The poet uses images and sound, movement and symbols to tell us about what he believes. The poem reminds one of the short story of Isaac Asimov, The Last Question (1956) While there is plenty here to analyze, this poem should be read without analysis the first time. Much of what it says really is otherwise ineffable, that is not able to be expressed in any other way. Poetry is often like this. It carries its message, not in the words, but in the readers’ reactions to the words. This poem is aptly named, as there could easily be a vast confusion over what it says, and that is good.

In order to completely analyze this poem, we need to deconstruct it, take it apart and look at the parts. However, it is also necessary to look at the whole, just as we would if examining a visual collage. We look at the overall impression and the story. It is my opinion that most poetry has narrative. The narrative in this poem covers the vast area of all of creation. The “I” of the first line is never named, and yet, this narrator implies that he or she (or they) was there at the first light, laying in the sand before life left the oceans and will still be there when entropy completely collapses the universe back into the singularity. Even the title implies that the poet is talking about more than just this planet by using the word “vast”. The Earth is large, but in the whole universe it is infinitesimally small.

The poet uses verbal images of sound, intellectual sound bytes, if they can be described this way, to touch the audience on a deeper level than the words alone can do. His reader has probably heard all of these sounds, at least in recordings, but probably in person: the surf, the trains, subways, the sea (maybe underwater gurgling). Then he mentions the “undersound,” and he uses onomatopoeia to describe those sounds: rumbling, roaring. He postulates that it could belong to “some enormous creature turning under sea and earth”. Is this life, itself? The reader might think of Jung’s “over-mind” (Mind Development 2008), or great collective unconscious, at this point, and that the poet is describing the sound of all life in existence, if life actually makes a sound just by being. “A billion sotto voices” again connects to another artistic creation, one of the themes of 2001, A Space Oddysey: Also Sprach Zarathustra. The image in the movie was of the birth of intelligence when the first manlike creature discovered the obelisk, and buried it, possibly to eliminate the noise it made, like a billion sotto voices. Is this the sound of the universe the poet is describing?

The next five lines describe the sounds heard across the universe: the muttering of emerging species, “the swelling stuttering”, which is the actual recorded sound of the universe as recorded by SETI, and the narrator ascribes this sound to the ocean’s speakers and the earth’s voice-box. We, the planet and everything on it, contribute to this stuttering sound of the universe. The next part is where the poet leads us into our past and our future and erases all the barriers of time. He writes of a “shocked echoing” and a “shocking shouting”. Are the echoes created by the shouting? I don’t think so, because he says the shouting is shocking, like a conversation when life recognizes itself. Hs says this is the sound “of all life’s voices/ lost in night.” The echo could be that sound life makes flowing back from the limits of the universe, lost in the vast darkness between planets, as entropy takes over from the expansion of the Big Bang, and all of these sounds and the images they incite, flows backwards. “The tape plays back/ through the moog synthesizer of time.” This has a certain sound, which is known by anyone who has heard one, rather like a pipe organ that plays all the sounds of the orchestra.

Finally the poet ends the poem at the beginning, where the chaos of the Big Bang is unscrambled, and the sounds become harmonies as all existence combines into one perfect singularity of first light.

The poet uses short lines to keep the images, which are created by the sounds, flowing in a steady rhythm, until we reach the part of the poem where he talks about the huge creature turning. Then the pace changes as we see a pattern of triple lines, one lone followed by two short, and the reading speeds up, especially if read out loud, as this poem probably is meant to be. The rhythm sort of pauses with a longer line and then speed up again until we reach the climax of this section with “of all life’s voices lost in night.”

The last part of the poem winds down with its subject. Following a pause, the speaker says that the tape is running backwards. Two even but syllabically filled lines slow the speaking, then the poem ends with the short, but quiet lines: “back to the first/ harmonies/ and the first light.” This poem is a performance piece, meant to be read out loud, and the audience would hear it the first time, not read it. Most of its impact depends upon reaction to the sounds and images, not the analysis of what he is saying. We can understand what he says by listening and we enjoy this poem much like we might enjoy “Starry Night” by Van Gogh. We just immerse ourselves in it and become a part of it. It is an experience for the audience which the poet has created, a huge mural of creation.


Asimov, Isaac, 1056, The last Question, Web.

Mind Development, 2008, Carl Jung and Jungian Analytical Psychology, Web.

Clarke, Arthur C, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick, Stanley, 1968, MGM.

Strauss, Richard, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Vienna Philharmonic, 1968.

Van Gogh, Vincent, 2008, The Starry Night, 1889, Web.

A Vast Confusion (This is the poem with notes to the right)

Long long I lay in the sands – who is this? The original intellect of the universe?

Sounds of trains in the surf – from the surf to trains encompasses millions of years

in subways of the sea

– sounds of…erasing time

And an even greater undersound – good idea here, cannot really say what this means, as his words are better than mine

of a vast confusion in the universe – this is more than one planet

a rumbling and a roaring

as of some enormous creature turning

under sea and earth

-jung’s overmind?

a billion sotto voices murmuring -one sound-echoes of 2001’s music-Thus Spake Zarathustra…the voices when the ape discovered the obelisk

a vast muttering-another sound

a swelling stuttering- a third sound

in ocean’s speakers- a trio of sound

world’s voice-box heard with ear to sand -back to just this planet, and the earth speaks

a shocked echoing

-has this happened before?

a shocking shouting

of all life’s voices lost in night – we are now beyond the universe, talking about the running down of creation, ebb after the flow from the big bang, everything is slowing down, entropy

And the tape of it – everything is collapsing back into the original singularity….the I of the first line, which lay in the sand is there.

somehow running backwards now

through the Moog Synthesizer of time

Chaos unscrambled

back to the first


And the first light.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

An Artifact Of Childhood Activity


Psychology refers to childhood as the time between birth and puberty, just before the human being enters adolescence (Gowers, 2005). However for sociologists, childhood is considered as the period after infancy, wherein the human being begins to actively participate in his or her immediate social environment and make conscious choices that can affect other people, and this typically though not strictly begins at age 6 (Cunningham, 1995). This definition of childhood by sociology is particularly what is adopted by this paper, as it presents an artifact that symbolizes the various facets of the concept of childhood as it is at the present. This paper begins with a description of how the artifact was constructed and continues with the explanation of the various elements of the artifact as it relates to childhood in 2009.

Construction of the Artifact

The construction of this artifact began with a deep reflection on what it means to be a child in 2009. The most dominant idea that came to mind during this reflection is technology, which the author believes to be the focal difference between what it is like to be a child in the present to what it is like to be a child in the past. Research confirms the influence and impact of the media-saturated environment of the United States on children, due to which an average child is exposed to more than five hours of media on a single day, outside the school (Rideout et al., 1999). Studies indicate that businesses are increasingly targeting young children to augment the sales of their merchandise since the initial part of the 1980s (Aird, Advertising and Marketing to children in the United States). With the majority of the children in America playing a crucial role in the production and sales of consumer goods, marketing to and for children has become an important business activity (Aird, ). The media-saturated environment in which Americans live and are exposed is indicated by studies that have proven that the approximate time dedicated to media by children in the age group 2 and 13 years is more than five hours (Rideout et al., 1999).

The extreme difference in the level of technology between now and a few decades ago as it affects childhood became the center of the artifact, and this is correlated with one of the most important facets of childhood from the perspective of mental health experts, play (Jenkinson, 2001). The ability of children to engage in play is one of the most essential needs of a child and is in fact, a protected right of children by the United Nations (Jenkinson, 2001). This led the author to realize that a conceptualization of how children play now is perhaps one of the most definitive expressions of what childhood is at the present. Research confirms the impact of video games, which has received increased attention due to the learning principles supported by the use of video games in cognitive science (Gee 2003, 2004). For instance, multi-player video games like the World of Warcraft facilitate players to create their desired virtual careers, giving them an environment that prepares them with some kind of experience, even though virtual (Gee, 2005). Taking this central theme into consideration, the author collected various related pictures from the internet and combined them into a single image. This image is composed of various elements, each symbolizing parts of the author’s complete idea of childhood in 2009.

The Artifact

The artifact is a collage of different images found on the internet, combined in such a way as to present a collection of ideas regarding childhood as it is today. The main base of the artifact is an image taken from the massively multiplayer online game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft, which is an example of the popular internet games available to children today. This base image consists of a character in the game and a background that is shifted to grayscale on the right-hand side. From this base image, other elements are added which include a Play Station Portable (PSP) attached to make it appear that the character is holding it with his right hand. Where the character was originally holding a globe, a highway to a computer is placed instead. An owl with a graduation cap stands on the highway and the computer monitor is attached with bloody tentacles which are made to appear as though they have come out of the monitor. The golden arches, symbolizing the popular fast-food chain, McDonald’s, are placed on the lower right-hand side of the artifact.


The child is mainly symbolized by the World of Warcraft character. This encapsulates the idea of the child in today’s modern world as one absorbed into the virtual world to sometimes a point of assuming an identity that deviates from the one outside the game world (Turkle, 1997). In earlier decades, limited technology restricted a child’s interaction with those with who he can physically interact with. The World of Warcraft is played in teams and each player has distinct skills for instance Mage, Warrior, or Druid, and players are required to enhance their skills through cooperation and coordination with different players. The game offers challenging problems which are required to be solved through “virtually routinized” solutions (Gee, 2005) which through regular practice and play results in the “Cycle of Expertise” enabling the player to become experts, an opportunity that enables advanced thinking skills and abilities among players (Bereiter and Scardamalia, 1993).

These games come in different forms, with each targeting a different age group of users. While World of Warcraft itself may be designed for older users, there are many other MMORPGs such as Pangya and that appeal to younger people and provide the same freedom of anonymity. Besides encouraging players to think about relationships, these games enable children to develop lateral thinking skills about the implications of their actions, which is an essential aspect in the developmental stage of children (Gee, 2005).

Thus, the symbolism of the child as an online game character depicts that children of 2009 are generally freer than those in previous decades to express themselves with no consequence, and this is a freedom that is largely granted by technology. The PSP symbolizes a version of the play in 2009, which greatly contrasts with the depiction of Dyson (2007) of child play during the late ’30s. In Dyson (2007), the play was described as largely physical activity, involving writing, singing, and dancing. In the modern-day of 2009, play largely consists of sitting down in a corner and turning on a PSP, followed by hours of engrossed attention to whatever game the child was playing.

This is an alarming element of childhood today, especially at the physical level. Since children are not as motivated to go out and play now as they were before the rise of gaming consoles like the PSP, they become more prone to becoming overweight from lack of physical activity. This is aggravated by fast-food chains such as McDonald’s, which continue to serve cholesterol-high food to their patrons and target young children in particular with their advertisements and marketing strategies. Thus, the child of 2009 faces the temptation of not being physically active and ending up obese. Lastly, the highway leading to the computer with an owl on the road is a symbolism of the greater access to knowledge and information that children of today have due to the easy availability of computers. Unlike decades earlier where knowledge was only mainly accessible in schools and libraries, the internet provides an avenue for children to learn about anything and everything that they wish to learn about. Unfortunately, though, the internet is not without its dangers, as represented by the bloody tentacles reaching out from the monitor. These tentacles are the dangers of exposure to unhealthy content on the internet, which a child may be susceptible to if not properly supervised.


Experiencing childhood in 2009 includes various advantages created by advanced technology that has granted children greater access to knowledge and more exciting worlds for play. Research and studies indicate that media and games do in some way support learning and development of lateral thinking skills in children by providing them with virtual environments. However, at the same time, these new innovations demotivate children from experiencing what was good with the ways of the previous generations, while making them vulnerable to the dangers created by the innovations of today.


Aird, (2004). Advertising and Marketing to children in the United States.

Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1993). Surpassing ourselves: An inquiry into the nature and implications of expertise. Chicago: Open Court.

Jenkinson, S. (2001). The Genius of Play: Celebrating the Spirit of Childhood. Melbourne: Hawthorn Press.

Turkle, S. (1997). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. Simon & Schuster.

Brown, C. (2005). Staking out the successful student. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 13(14). Web.

Cunningham, H. (1995). Children and Childhood in Western Society since 1500. London: Longman.

Dyson, A. (2007). “School Literacy and the Development of a Child Culture: Written Remnants of the ‘Gusto of Life.’” In Thiessen, D., and Cook-Sather, A. (eds). International Handbook of Student Experience in Elementary and Secondary School, 115 – 142.

Gee, J. P. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2003.

Gee, J. P. Situated Language and Learning: A Critique of Traditional Schooling. London: Routledge, 2004.

Gowers, S. (2005). Child and adolescent psychiatry (second edition). Royal College of Psychiatrists.

James Paul Gee (2005). Good Video Games and Good Learning. E–Learning, Volume 2, Number 1.

Rideout, V; Foehr, U; Roberts, D; Brodie, M. (1999). Kids & Media: The New Millennium. A Kaiser Family Foundation Report. November 1999.

Socrates And Plato: Ideas Of The Great Philosophers


The ideas of the ancient philosophers such as Socrates and Plato are often looked to for wisdom and an idea of the ‘right’ path one should take. These individuals provided a great deal of information regarding the proper functioning of a society, including what it would take for a man to be a good leader. According to Socrates and Plato, a good leader had to first be a moral and ethical man who had been awakened to the greater truths of the universe and was willing to return to help guide his fellow citizens to a similar vision.

While they may have differed on whether a good leader was defined by engaging in right action or participating incorrect thought, it was generally agreed that a good leader must be a just man, which would give him no reason to be unhappy and thus enable him to be an effective and fair leader. This, of course, requires a definition of the term ‘just’ as it applies within the context of the development of a leader. However, the ideas brought forward by Plato, either on his own or through the mouth of Socrates, who undoubtedly influenced much of his thought, would be particularly impossible to apply to today’s society.

Main text

As seen in the writings of Plato regarding Socrates, which some will argue is a blending of the two philosophers’ ideas, one of the requirements for a moral and ethical man is that he must first know “his spiritual self as it really is, including all its shortcomings, strengths and potentialities.”[1] As Plato was a disciple of Socrates and the source of much of the information we have regarding much of what Socrates had to say, Socrates’ concept of ethics is relevant to an understanding of Plato’s views.

According to Socrates, it is the man who does not know himself who cannot accurately judge his own capabilities and his own unique path to the greatest good based on accurate use of his strengths and knowledge of his weaknesses. Socrates takes this another step by suggesting that knowledge of oneself will instruct from within regarding those things which are good (moral and ethical) and those things which are not.

He suggests this by claiming that things that are good will make us feel happy inside while things that are bad will be immediately recognizable to the man who knows himself because these actions will cause “spiritual degradation and mental deterioration”[2] that will be immediately apparent.

Socrates’ most famous student, Plato, pulled together the ideas of his mentor and Pythagoras to combine them with his own response to what he’d seen of the world to develop his Theory of Forms, in which the ultimate goal was to progress through the levels of reality to the highest level, also known as the greatest good. This is presented as the Allegory of the Cave in Book 7 of The Republic. In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato sets forth the idea that mankind is only living in an illusion of life, that the reality is beyond the scope of our own senses and can only be reached through the intellect.

In the dialogue Plato presents, Socrates explains “here they [human beings] have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads.”[3] In this vision, Socrates explains that the human beings are watching a giant screen on which marionettes and other things dance, but the humans can only see the shadows of these moving things.

The actual colors and nature of these things cannot be perceived from such a perspective, but not having known anything else, Socrates argues that the humans don’t know there’s something to miss: “To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”[4] In addition, Socrates goes on to explain that when one of these individuals is released from the bonds that bind him, “he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows.”[5] Even when facing the true reality, these individuals will strive to reject what they see, still preferring to believe that what they once knew is still real.

However, Socrates continues the discussion by explaining that once this individual is forced to live in this newer light, the person will begin to understand their new perception as being the true reality by degrees: “… first he will see the shadows best, next to the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven.”[6] From this acceptance, Socrates theorized that the person would be very reluctant to return to the cave and would instead take pity on those he had left behind him in the cave.

If that person returned to help the others and could make himself accepted as such, Socrates indicates the people would have a tendency to idolize him, but having only been ahead of them in seeing the true reality, this leader would be reluctant to take on such a role. However, if the person had returned to their imprisonment within the cave before their sight was adjusted, they would instead be ridiculed, considered crazy by the inhabitants of the cave who had never left and held as an example for why no one should try venturing out of the cave.

As is seen in this allegory, Plato does not view reality as being the world of substance and things that we can see in everyday life, but is something more abstract that can only be obtained through intellectual thought. In determining the path to the greatest good, Plato differs from Socrates in the proper method of obtaining that level. Where Socrates says it is through right action, Plato says it is through correct thought.[7] In the case of humans, this perfect form is commonly identified as the soul, which, existing in the realm of ideas, begins in a perfect state and can only be harmed by the wrong actions defined by Socrates[8] or by the wrong thoughts according to Plato.

Admittedly, this is a fine line of distinction as action typically follows thought, but it remains an important distinction nonetheless as thought does not always precede action and action can take place without full agreement in thought. In determining who should be leader, it becomes obvious through this story that the uneducated individual would not have the ability to reach this deep level of thought required to be an effective leader. Instead, the leader must be someone who has been encouraged to step outside of the cave, have a long enough look around to discern the true aspect of things and then follow the call to assist his former cave-mates.

Another important aspect of Plato’s ideas revolves around his realization that an unhappy man cannot make an effective ruler because he is continually struggling to find what will make him happy rather than being concerned with the welfare of the state.

Further evidence of Socrates’ influence can be seen in Plato’s idea that only the unjust are unhappy, so to be happy (to achieve the greatest good), one must first be just. Plato attempts to define the term “justice” in his first chapter of The Republic. This is done by repeating the discussion held by Socrates and several others regarding the issue. In presenting the conversation in this way, Plato is able to get around many of the arguments that might be placed against his concept of justice by presenting these arguments as a logical means of reaching his conclusion.

For example, Polemarchus tells Socrates that “the repayment of a debt is just, and in saying so he appears to me to be right,”[9] while Socrates answers with an example, “he certainly does not mean … that I ought to return a deposit of arms or of anything else to one who asks for it when he is not in his right senses; and yet a deposit cannot be denied to be a debt.”[10] As each statement is given and each is answered with an example of an exception, Plato develops the concept that justice is not a singularly defined, standard answer applicable to all things. Instead, it is a habit of conscious consideration regarding the various elements involved.

Plato provides a greater definition of his concept of justice later in The Republic, after it has been considered from a variety of viewpoints, as being concerned not with the outward man, but with the inward, which is the true self and concernment of man: for the just man does not permit the several elements within him to interfere with one another, or any of them to do the work of others – he sets in order his own inner life, and is his own master and his own law, and at peace with himself; and when he has bound together the three principles within him … [and] has become one entirely temperate and perfectly adjusted nature, then he proceeds to act … always thinking and calling that which preserves and co-operates with this harmonious condition, just and good action, and the knowledge which presides over it, wisdom.[11]

In other words, the just man, or anything else that can be said to be just in some way, is a man who commits himself to his own work in harmony with others, seeking to rule only his own inner life and to comport himself in the completion of his duties with careful consideration of what constitutes just and good action at all times. The main identifying theme behind all actions is identifying what brings the individual, the state or the condition to a greater alignment with the just and good condition for all.

As has been shown, Plato’s concept of ethics plays a large role in helping these individuals determine what are good and just actions as each decision require careful thought and measurement of the possible outcomes. This concept of what constitutes a just man feeds greatly into Plato’s concept of how leaders of societies should be selected if they are to be the ethical creatures necessary for his utopian vision to work. It is the just man who is capable of playing in tune, not exceeding the note, but striking just the right one, and it is this just man who should be leader.

Inputting forth his theories of ethics and morals in the context of an individual man, Plato further develops The Republic into a full-fledged utopian society. Here, he sets forth an example of a just society in which there are no possessions, where children removed from their parents soon after birth are given equal upbringing and education and all of them, boys and girls alike, are given equal opportunity to achieve the philosopher-king status based on their own unique talents, abilities and aptitude for higher thought. Because all children are educated equally, this enables adults to begin sorting them into different divisions as they grow, according to their biological inclinations and abilities rather than by their affiliation with any particular adult members of the community.

Children would be sorted into different forms periodically in order to produce the workers, the soldiers and the philosophers, who receive the most training. In this view, each individual is given an equal chance to grow up to be a leader, but only if they are able to demonstrate the complex processes of thought and consideration and have proven themselves to be unselfish and just in nature.

Because everyone had an equal chance and was separated based upon their own abilities and interests, they should all be content to work within their fields of expertise, neither envying others nor being envied. In removing the concept of personal possessions and traditional family relationships in which one man ‘owns’ one woman and her children, even these temptations for jealousy are removed, enabling each individual to act according to their most ethical nature.

“If our citizens are well-educated, and grow into sensible men, they will easily see their way through all these, as well as other matters which I omit; such, for example, like marriage, the possession of women and the procreation of children, which will all follow the general principle that friends have all things in common.”[12] The philosophers, having received years and years of education and training, would then be in an inspired position, intellectually and spiritually, to take up their positions as defenders of justice.

By imposing such a just society, Plato points out these rulers would “be above bribery; and their only ambition would be to ensure justice in the state”[13] because they would have no possessions to protect or accumulate and would have no individual living spaces in which to inspire awe among their peers or subordinates.

In practical terms, these ideas would be impossible to implement. This only begins with the impossibility of finding or training the ‘ideal’ leader. “The point is that righteousness can be achieved only when each of the three elements of the soul is fulfilling its own function – much as justice is achieved in the state only when each of the three social elements is fulfilling its role in society.”[14] This comparison between the individual and the workings of the state is completely in keeping with Plato’s concept that the issues of ethics and politics were one and the same.

The individual could not be separated from the state just as the state could not be separated from the individual. It was for this reason that the philosopher class was required to have so much education within the prescribed curriculum.


Only with the education Plato describes can the philosopher gain the ability to balance the three elements of his being both internally and externally to such an extent that he (or she) becomes capable of appropriately balancing the elements of a problem within the society to come to an ethical, just conclusion. Because the philosopher-king would have to interact with other societies structured differently from his own, he would necessarily become corrupted by the status of other kings and leaders, the possessions and power they wield and would have a difficult time getting his uneducated and severely restricted population to compete on any real basis with the products and intellectual pursuits of other countries.

To establish the type of training and strictly stratified society he proposes, Plato would also need to completely trample the basic rights of man as he stole children away from parents and would have to establish a Gestapo-type military in order to enforce his restrictions against marriage and traditional nuclear family living arrangements. Finally, the difficulty of keeping literature out of the hands of the public, particularly in today’s world of high-speed internet, is virtually impossible and, as Plato himself illustrated, the introduction of literature to the people would be the destruction of the society he’s envisioned.


Magee, B. (1998). The Story of Philosophy. New York: DK Publishing.

Plato. (360 BC; reprinted 1992). The Republic. A.D. Lindsay (Trans.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Sahakian, W. and Sahakian, M. (1966). Ideas of the Great Philosophers. New York: Barnes and Noble Books.

Strathern, P. (1996). Plato in 90 Minutes. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.

  1. Sahakian, W. and Sahakian, M. (1966). Ideas of the Great Philosophers. New York: Barnes and Noble Books: 32.
  2. Sahakian, Sahakian: 33.
  3. Plato. (360 BC; reprinted 1992). The Republic. A.D. Lindsay (Trans.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf: 388.
  4. Plato: 388.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Strathern, P. (1996). Plato in 90 Minutes. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee: 25.
  8. Magee, B. (1998). The Story of Philosophy. New York: DK Publishing: 29.
  9. Plato: 297.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid: 354-355.
  12. Plato: 344.
  13. Strathern: 38.
  14. Ibid: 46-47.

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