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The poem has been set against the busy life of the people who live in New York, the busy railroad, and road system of transportation that is both on land and under the sea. It is also set against the air transport -airplanes, sea transport like ships and their dwellings, which, are skyscrapers, that "defy everything but gravity" (Lehman 138).
The themes that have been expounded on this poem are uncertainty. All these means of transport were built the grandparents so that their offspring will live in comfort. Although they make life to be more convenient than before, it is rare that the users think of death whenever they board them. People are guaranteed that these means of transport and dwellings will always defy gravity but they are not certain if they can help them to defy death. The words "think of it- -..." show suspense, imagination, and uncertainty that occurs when one dies (Lehman 138).
The other theme in this poem is death. Lehman points out that, everything is certain but not death. The timing, place and the kind of death an individual will go through is not known. Man only knows that as long as he lives, he will do everything to defy gravity but he is not sure of the day that he will no longer be able to defy gravity (when he dies). The lines "the elevator or the subway or the good faith of the motorist should fail..." create an image of imminent death to the user should nything fail in the system for example, accidents.
The words "...if some apparatus we rely on..." help the reader to have the image of how millions of people depend on these modern means of transport. Lehman uses imagery to show the plot of the poem. "...we defy everything but gravity..." is used to show how man works hard to expand his territory using any means possible (Lehman 138). The "underground trains, elevators, subways illustrate the theme of urbanization and modernization.
Today, millions of people live in big cities like New York, and the means of transport have to be fast, reliable, and comfortable. This poem interprets into detail the dangers of modernization. In a busy city like New York, if an accident happens in the subway, then the odds are that many people will perish. Much as people have built many advanced and reliable means of living and transportation, they have not yet defied death. This poem calls on the people especially the authorities to look at the chances of accidents and put in place the right life-saving mechanisms should anything fail since no forms of modernization can defy death. People will always rely on these means of transport and reside in skyscrapers but thoughts of death through accidents, cannot help them much. They are already the "slaves of modernization and convenience."
The cities New York and Venice have been used to show the confliict in the poem. Although Venice is sinking into the sea, there are still people living there. This means that not all people can perish through accidents. Venice has been around for hundreds of years surrounded by water and the rising waters have never decimated neither the whole population at once nor the accidents. The water is their beauty just like the deviance of gravity in New York defines its beauty and serenity. Defying gravity, sinking of Venice, the use of elevators and the subway are all used to show conflict. People are already slaves of modernization and convenience and thus cannot evade their imminent deaths even though they evade the ills of modernization.
This poem takes an open-ended form. In this form, the rhyme is shown by the words "... defy...gravity..." still be here...as we are. The words "...we travel underground in trains going through tunnels...", "... when you think of any of the ways any of us could die in a day..." show rhythm in the poem (Lehman 138). Lehman uses syntax and simple vocabulary to convey his theme and plot. The words are so clear and the meaning of the poem is clearly revealed. In this poem, the words used show an iambic meter. The long syllables are followed by a short syllable. For instance, "... though encircled with water..."apparatus we rely on...and our grandparents built are perfect examples or lines that reveal the iambic meter (Wild).