The Dancing, Gerald Stern – an Analysis

Standard

Title
Makes me think of a cheeky drink and early morning mayhem.

Gut Reaction
I like it! It feels like… Well currently it feels like an ode to Holocaust survival but perhaps others would disagree.

What does it all mean?
Is this an older person reminiscing about his first moments in the US following escaping all manner of atrocities back in Ukraine?

In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture
and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots

Sounds like a car boot sale, a bizarre shop, an accumulation of life’s material detritus?

I have never seen a postwar Philco
with the automatic eye

Um. Assume we don’t mean THIS Automatic Eye

nor heard Ravel’s “Bolero” the way I did

Sorry. I see ‘Bolero’, I see this.

in 1945 in that tiny living room
on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did
then,
my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming,
He hasn’t felt or seen anything in such wonderment since ‘then’ back in 1945 in his childhood home?

then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming,
my mother red with laughter, my father cupping
his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance
of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum,
half fart, the world at last a meadow,
the three of us whirling and singing, the three of us
screaming and falling, as if we were dying,
as if we could never stop—in 1945 —
in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh
, home
He’s describing a childhood memory that is precious to him. Laughing and dancing and existing in such delirious bliss, finally in their ‘meadow’. This feels like a Jewish family who has escaped and set up a new life in Pittsburgh. He recognises Pittsburgh for the imperfection that it is, but loves it all the same.
‘My knives all flashing’ – is he bearing his teeth in a wide smile?

in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh, home
of the evil Mellons, 5,000 miles away
from the other dancing—in Poland and Germany—
oh God of mercy, oh wild God.

He thinks the Mellon family corrupt perhaps, and it seems many would be in agreement. I suppose you could argue that this was said in bitterness since the Mellons too were an immigrant family who became unthinkably successful and wealthy.
He compares their dance of freedom to that of those they have left behind; bittersweet and tangible in his guilt and relief at his own safety and their lives dancing around all number of pains. He thanks his god for showing he and his family mercy and yet pleads with and acknowledges the somewhat fickle nature of his god also (‘wild’), as a prayer for those left behind?

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
One stanza of 19 lines.

Tone
Grumpiness of old age and fondness for his memories?

Suggested rhyme scheme
abcdefegghijkglimno

Masculine and feminine rhyme with both stopped and run on lines, alliteration used throughout.

Similes and metaphors
Automatic eye – childhood delight?

Author’s relationship with their subject
Remembrance

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
Not much in the way of analysis of this one. Stern himself seems a well-loved character and a very talented man.

Signing off
Where do you start?
I’ve never personally been on the receiving end of such persecution; I do hope I have enough humanity about me to recognise the Holocaust for the horror that it was. I don’t know what it felt like, I don’t know the pain or fear, I do know when I hear about antisemitism my heart sinks. How can we forget? So soon? How can we see difference as a bad thing?
I don’t know specific details and I don’t know enough to wax lyrical but… I do know how I feel. And I feel that such hatred of anyone based upon their belief system/appearance/way of life is abhorrent to me.
A few years ago I visited the House Of Terror in Budapest and the images have never left me. Neither the image of the man with the skinhead on the tram in a white T-shirt reading ‘gas all Jews’ on it with a graphic illustration.
Difference to me should just be that – a difference – not an excuse for ignorant hatred.

Links

The Dancing read by Gerald Stern

Gerald Stern

Gerald Stern

When I read this I think of the song… Deep. There’s a (short) story here. Whilst at the House of Terror watching screens of human bodies being turfed over and over like nothing more than weeds in a field, I realised I was actually liking the background music. Wrong. It sounded very much like the darkest of Nine Inch Nails, and the images coupled with my enjoyment of the music made me feel all shades of sick. Perhaps it really was this track; I can’t bring myself to listen the whole way through to check. If not, it sounded a lot like this.

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