An Examination of Ted Berrigan’s “Red Shift”
In the poem “Red Shift”, the poet Ted Berrigan uses certain forms of diction to express a tangible feeling of regret and a defined hostility towards life. Berrigan goes this extra step to build a feeling of understanding between the speaker and the audience, which then helps the ideas flow from “Red Shift”.
“Red Shift” itself starts off as a series of small thoughts, loosely connected to one another. Such as in the case of lines 4 “I drink some American poison liquid air which bubbles” and 5 “and smoke to have character”. Both lines are open to a wide variety of examination; in the first line, it can be interpreted that the speaker is drink some form of liquor, or perhaps American propaganda, or even air pollution. The second line is rather strait forward; the speaker is most likely smoking, but the point of these lines is that it gives the speaker a more human feel, so it is no longer a disembodied voice. So the first few lines of the poem are used to give the speaker a feeling of humanity.
The Berrigan goes on to have the speaker speak of his own lif within the poem. The speaker says “Who would have thought that I’d be here, nothing wrapped up, nothing buried, everything Love, children, hundreds of them, money, marriage ethics, a politics of grace, Up in the air, swirling, burning even or still, now more then ever before?” The speaker has taken on a much more dark tone of voice. He speaks in the past tense, as if he’s regretting past decisions and situations. Perhaps he even is thinking of the moments in his life when he was far to indecisive. There is obvious regret woven in the prose of this excerpt. Berrigan mentions things “up in the air” as if they had never been solved, or the memories are there but just out of reach. Which is further supported by the next piece, “up in the air, swirling,” if the memories are no longer clear, then they may all be muddled or swirling in his head. The speaker also mentions such things as love, children, and money. But they are not presented as positives, but in a negative tone. Something happened in the speakers past, something he is regrets greatly and can not change. This feeling of regret is another use of diction to tie the speaker to the audience.
Towards the end of the poem, the speaker’s tone takes on a hostile flavor. He begins to rant about death and even suggests that people can not stay faithful to each other in this line, “Not that painter who from very first meeting I would never & never will leave alone until we both vanish into thin air we signed up & so demanded To breathe & who will never leave me, not for sex, nor politics nor even for stupid permanent estrangement which is only our human lot & means nothing.” The way Berrigan wrote this passage, the speaker appears to be spitting out each phrase. His tone has become openly hostile, as though the very thought enrages him. As well as hostility this passage involves a jab towards human nature. When the speaker says “… nor even permanent estrangement which is only our human lot & means nothing.” He is stating that people cannot be with eachother for any prolonged period. Over all he sounds very agitated, but there is still that wisp faint remorseful tinge that has been a major part of the poem till now.
Berrigan has many ideas in his poem “Red Shift” many are difficult to assess the first time it is read. To help his ideas spread to the audience, Berrigan has his speaker connect to the audience, through the words on the page.