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At the age of sixteen most people are inexperienced, especially, when it comes to love. The poem “At sixteen by Edward Hirsch provides such a scenario of how childhood life is mostly characterized by inexperienced decisions like the reasons why young men fall in love and how they spent the little they earn. According to Hirsch, most young men fall in love for fun and not to settle down, have children and make a family. The same young men due to their in experience in life, work hard to earn a living but the money they get is mostly extravagantly spent to entertain friends. This is seen when the character in the poem took his girlfriend to the beach for parties yet he had his own meal in the kitchen with other waiters (Hirsch 1). The main theme of the poem is inexperience in the young generation. Hirsch has achieved this by the use of literature that is viable while making use of language device, figurative language and symbols.
When such young men come to age, it is always too late for them to correct their wasted and inexperienced life as life is always like a steel door, it rarely gives one a second chance to go back and correct the mistakes as it denies access to the past life once you grow up. Most young men are not always financial stable but still strive hard to live lavishly. This mostly drives them to go to the extend of making inexperienced decisions in the name of being happy. The young man in the poem is struggling in life as he works as a waiter in a filthy environment. The narrator says that “ I got a job as a writer in a downtown restaurant” . He narrates on how he used to walk through the fire escape that had gasoline splashed on it in order to get orders from some neighboring warehouse (Hirsch 1). Fire escape in this stanza symbolizes the situation in which he was in, it was this job that could salvage him from his situation yet he was not taking it seriously.
Instead of the young investing the money he earned on something that would better his life, he takes his time to take the girlfriend who he believes to be so much in love with to parties on the beach in order to make her happy. Even his colleagues at work often laughed at him because of misplaced appetite as he was always striving to satisfy his teenager thirsts that are mostly luxurious. Hirsch states that ‘Everyone laughed at my enormous appetite”. Enormous appetite in this case represents the young man’s naïve wish for a luxurious life. This brings out the element of most young men failing to stand up and make proper decisions in their early lives with most of them ending up wasting this early but crucial stage in life.
The two teenagers believe they are deeply in love with each other. Their take on love is so inexperience considering what they believe the love they are sharing can provide to them. The young man says he loves his girl friend so much and wanted her so and that he felt that he could die out of that feeling. This is a naïve stand on love maybe because it was his first love. The girl friend on the other hand has fallen in love with a young man who is not even financial stable yet what she wants from that relationship is to get pregnant and have children. This is another theme evident in the poem, the two teenagers are madly in love with each other. It is this love that influences the actions taken by the young man thus helping in the plot development of the poem. That is the mistake that most young girls do when they are in love, they are often blinded by the love they believe to be sharing to the extend that they make stupid mistakes like allowing themselves to get pregnant at a tender age with equally young men who cannot even support them (Hirsch 1).
The young man has to borrow his father’s car to take her to parties and at the same time works as a waiter in a hotel down town meaning that he does not have a stable income to support a family. Throughout the poem we may notice that Edward Hirsch, has a very unique way of writing. He has had second line of every stanza becomes the first on the next one and so on, until we get to the last two stanzas where instead of using the exact same words, he mixes them to give a different meaning to the poem. He has also made use of repetition in most cases with some of the lines in a different way but expressing the same thing and others written exactly the same. I believe that the ones that are written exactly the same express his main feelings and importance in the poem.
The decision the young man makes in life are also naïve. He misses out on the important issues in life and fails to read what is going on around him. As the girl friend insists on getting pregnant and having children, the man is busy thinking of how he will have his father’s car and get the girlfriend to the beach instead of concentrating on family matters. His colleagues who are more experienced laugh at him regarding the decisions he makes in life but he fails to notice this, and considers it as being a part of the jokes shared by workmates.
To clearly bring out the theme in the poem, Hirsch makes use of symbols such as alteration, repetition and metaphor. The line ‘I wrote a poem about a steel door closing’ has been repeated severally in order to emphasis the theme of the poem. Metaphor is evident in the line, ‘I walked under a fire escaped splashed with gasoline’ to indicate the young mans working conditions and what he was going through. This showed that he is experiencing something new, taking the risk on trying something different. The poet also makes use of simile and analogy to indicate the extend at which the young thought he was in love. He says that “I wanted her so much I thought I’d die of it”
I think it is interesting to notice that although the poem expresses the feeling and the experience of a sixteen year old, I found this poem fun to read because it made me remember when I was that age. I remember when I had my first girlfriend and how crazy I was for her, but time gives experience. I believe that the author of the poem is not trying to represent a love story, but instead an experience and a way of thought. It is confusing to understand especially because of how the author plays with the sentences and with the stanzas placing them in different order and giving them different meanings. It is through the naïve experience that most young men learn to be responsible in their lives as well as their relationship. The unfortunate thing is that they may not have the chance such mistakes thus they have to live with them for the rest of their lives.