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Poetry analysis: “The Man with the Saxophone”

During each thought-provoking encounter in literary pieces, the narrators confront a mirror that reflects a piece of themselves back into their eyes—whether it is their internal struggles or peace. During the interesting encounter between the speaker and the saxophone player, the narrator in the poem sees through the saxophone player voices in his head that echo his hopelessness and melancholy on a quiet dawn. While the use of literary devices like simile and metaphor creates an imagery of the surrounding of the protagonist that reveals the disorienting state of the man, the employment of enjambment and the form of the poem as a free verse more directly characterize the confusion of the character, and the juxtaposition of the two characters in the last lines of the poem restores freedom in the choking world of the narrator.

        Before the official encounter of the two characters, Ai uses lines to paint a vivid image of the environment of the city, foreshadowing the psychological states and reactions of the character to the man with the saxophone. Describing the early morning of the city as quiet and empty, Ai uses simile and compares “last week’s snow” as “unrecognizable as the soft, white hair,” positioning the man in the relentless elapse of time. Similarly, the line “only the steam/pouring from the manhole covers seems alive” establishes a depressing mood when put under a dauntingly tranquil surrounding—the exact environment that leads to the extreme solitude and helpless revelation of the speaker in later lines. While the quiet street translates into the loneliness of the speaker, the empty stores depicted speaks to the empty mind of the speaker, whose thoughts wanders from the street to his own failings. The description of the physical environment in the beginning of the poem transitions smoothly into the stream of consciousness of the man, whose solitude surges before meeting the man with the saxophone—an illuminating presence that immediately contrasts with the depressing environment.

        While the description of the environment renders the encounter transformative, the use of enjambment and the form of the poem again reflects the disorienting and wandering nature of the man’s physical and emotional journeys, revealing that the encounter with the man magnifies the feelings while bringing the man some companion and comfort. Through the extensive use of enjambment, Ai connects the form of the poem to the scattered and abrupt shifts of thoughts of the man, who laments that “If only I could/turn myself into a bird/like the shaman I was meant to be” to disclose his discontent. While the shorter lines and more disorderly structures from line 10 to line 25 indicate the flow of imagination of the man, the longer lines after the encounter reflect the change in attitude of the man, who finds comfort, peace, freedom, and empowerment amidst the often noisy city.

        Ai juxtaposes the man with the saxophone with the speaker during their encounter and juxtaposes the tranquility of the city with the sounds that they make to reveal the extent that the encounter empowers the speaker. Positioning the action of the speaker next to the man with the saxophone, Ai describes the scene where “I suck the air up from my diaphragm/and bend over into the cold, golden reed/waiting for the notes to come.” The powerful image, through the juxtaposition of the two men making different sounds, contrasts the quiet street with the sounds that they make, in the “heartland of pure noise” that usually inundates sounds like such. Using a metaphor and writing that “I’m the unencumbered bird of my imagination,” the poet grants the speaker liberty acquired through the encounter with the man, who challenges the choking quietness and inhumanity of the street with his instrument, while the speaker repeats a similar action to restore his own humanity and hope.

        Through the encounter with the man with the saxophone, the speaker confronts his solitude and loneliness and breaks the silence of the dawn. Through describing the physical background and the emotional state of the narrator, Ai describes a powerful scene of transformation and self-empowerment using literary devices like imagery, juxtaposition, and contrast.


Published by Sunny

I am a high school rising sophomore and I love to read and write.

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