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"Passing Through" by Stanley Kunitz. Poem Analysis

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Ryan Lim (14) P4 Passing Through 1. on my seventy-ninth birthday Nobody in the widow?s household ever celebrated anniversaries. In the secrecy of my room I would not admit I cared that my friends were given parties. Before I left town for school my birthday went up in smoke in a fire at City Hall that gutted the Department of Vital Statistics. If it weren?t for a census report or a five-year old White Male sharing my mother?s address at the Green Street tenement in Worcester I?d have no documentary proof that I exist. You are the first, my dear, to bully me into these festive occasions. Sometimes, you say, I wear an abstracted look that drives you up the wall, as though it signified distress or disaffection. Don?t take it so to heart. Maybe I enjoy not-being as much as being who I am. Maybe it?s time for me to practice growing old. The way I look at it, I?m passing through a phase: gradually I?m changing to a word. Whatever you choose to claim of me is always yours; nothing is truly mine except my name. I only borrowed this dust. Stanley Kunitz The poem is about the gradual disintegration of an elderly man?s lack of identity, to the extent that the self-subversive take towards his own identity, progresses and transcends to the physical. ...read more.


Vital Statistics refers to the quantitative data concerning a population, such as the number of births, marriages, and deaths. The Department of Vital Statistics, as its name implies, focuses on the overall numbers of people living in an area, simply focusing on the general quantity, instead of on specifics. This reiterates the idea of a loss of an individual identity, on the supposed day dedicated to one?s birthday. The speaker then says that his existence was only marked by a census report, which refers to the official count of a population, as well as an account made by ?a five-year old White Male sharing my mother?s address?, which is implied to be the speaker?s little brother. The idea of a loss of a unique individual identity is evident in the speaker?s description of his younger brother, as he does not refer to his name or any unique characteristics about his brother, when describing him. As aforementioned, he refers to him as a five year-old White Male, focusing only on his ethnicity, gender and age, all of which are very general characteristics of people, and the emphasis on his age shows the speaker?s focus on statistics; and cold, hard, impersonal numbers. The speaker even says that his little brother as merely ?sharing (his) ...read more.


This brings to mind the idea that the speaker had felt this way from a very long time ago, and was very mentally aged from a very young age. This idea of only a physical development, rather than a mental one is also shown in the line ?I?m passing through a phase?, where a phase refers to a period of development that one goes through. The idea of a lack of a unique identity, and by extension, a lack of ownership over individual belongings is also shown when the speaker says ?Whatever you choose to claim of me is always yours; except my name.? This brings to mind the idea that the only individual quality that the speaker retains would be his name, and this is also shown earlier when he says he is ?gradually changing to a word?, where his physical presence would cease to be significant, and what would be left of him would be memories of him, and his name. His name would be his last personal, unique, individualized character quality that he retained. The idea of a lack of his uniqueness of individual identity transcending over to the literal, where the significance of his physical state is removed, and the ?dust? that he borrows refers to whatever particles that is left of him in his absence.. ...read more.

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