Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Part 2: "Great Books" Reflective Questions on "The pennycandystore beyond the El"

Reflective "Great Books" Questions

The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
fell in love
with unreality

1. Since candy store is 2 words in dictionaries, why are the 3 words pennycandystore run together as the starting line in this poem?

2. Why is the elevated train called the “El” instead of the El Train or even the Elevated Train?

3. Why does the poem emphasize that the pennycandystore is “beyond” the El?

4. Why is the place a "pennycandystore" where the speaker “first fell in love”?
Who is the speaker of the poem?

5. Why does he fall in love with “unreality”?

Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that september afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved along
the licorice sticks
and tootsie rolls
and Oh Boy Gum

6. Why is the pennycandystore in “semi-gloom” rather than brightly lighted?

7. Why are “jellybeans’ mentioned first and why do they “glow”?

8. Why do the poem’s events take place on a “september afternoon”?

9. Why is there a “cat upon the counter” moving “along” the candy rows?

10. Why does the narrator speak of “licorice sticks,” “tootsie rolls” and gum?

11. Why is the gum singled out to be “Oh Boy Gum”?

12. Is there any significance in the details that “Oh Boy Gum”
advertisements in the 1920’s had this unusual image of an elf whispering in the boy's ear?

Why does the ad state that "It's pure"?

Another key point to ruminate on is that the poem in its original poetry book form is a concrete one where the lines are staggered so that the poem looks like its lines are falling leaves!

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

13. At this point, why does the narrator switch focus to outside of the pennycandystore, saying that the "leaves were falling as they died"?
Remember, Ferlinghetti has already said that it is "september."

A wind had blown away the sun

15. And then the next line speaks in extreme hyperbole and fantasy--that "a wind had blown away the sun"?

A girl ran in

16. Suddenly, after "a wind..." why does the focus shifts from objects back to a person, as it did in the 1st line, saying the speaker "fell in love with unreality"?

Her hair was rainy

17. Is this vivid metaphor describing the girl's hair literal or figurative-thematic OR both?

18. Before this, the speaker hadn't mentioned any rain or stormy weather, so why does he do so now?

Her breasts were breathless in the little room

19. This sexual image is shocking and unexpected! Before this sensuous image, one might expect that the girl is in elementary school since the boy is.
Why does this well-developed adolescent girl from outside enter now?

20. Why are her "breasts...breathless?
Of course on the plot level of the poem, it's because she was out of breath from running to get out of the bad storm and rain.
What emphatic meanings are in these 3 short lines?

21. Notice all of the near rhymes, alliteration, assonance, and other word play.
Here's an amazing graphic showing the sound structure of the poem from upinvermont

Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon! Too soon!

22. Why are the "leaves...falling" "Outside" brought forth again?

23. Then another shocker--the narrator appears to use personification..."leaves were falling and they cried..." (like the rain?)

24. However, when one close-reads, the realization comes that the "they" aren't the "leaves" but the adolescent boy and girl!
Why are the leaves and the boy and girl associated with each other?

24. Of course, next is why do they cry, not only in the sense of weeping, but also as in shouting?

25. What is "too soon"?


Please add other possible questions, comments, or reflections in the response box below.

In the Light,

Dan Wilcox


Daniel Wilcox said...

Pushkar, Thanks for stopping by. When you get a chance, please read some of my own poems. You can see more of them at I just visited your site and was reading some of your poems. I'll comment about one on your site:-)

Poet Pushkar Bisht said...

Thank you for visiting my blog. I love William Blake.

Poet Pushkar Bisht said...

I visited your website. I enjoyed reading your words. Your name reminds me of Ela Wilcox. She was an American poet. Have you read her works?

Poet Pushkar Bisht said...

Ella Wheeler Wilcox was an American author and poet. Her works include Poems of Passion and Solitude, which contains the lines "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone." Her autobiography, The Worlds and I, was published in 1918, a year before her death.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Pushkar, Yes, I am familiar with Ela's poems. In fact one of her poems is one of my favorites. Have you read

The Winds of Fate

One ship drives east and another drives west
With the self-same winds that blow;
'Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
That tells them the way to go.

Like the winds of the sea are the winds of fate
As we voyage along through life;
'Tis the set of the soul
That decides its goal
And not the calm or the strife.

World Voices. by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
New York : Hearst's International Library Company, 1916.