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Writing the Poetry Essay for AP English Literature

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

Poem Prompt:

In "On the Subway," Sharon Olds brings two worlds into close proximity. Identify the contrasts that develop both portraits in the poem and discuss the insights the narrator comes to as a result of the experience. Refer to such literary techniques as poetic devices, tone, imagery, and organization.

On the Subway

by Sharon Olds

      The boy and I face each other
      His feet are huge, in black sneakers
      laced with white in a complex pattern like a
      set of intentional scars. We are stuck on
      opposite sides of the car, a couple of
      molecules stuck in a rod of light
      rapidly moving through darkness.
      He has the casual cold look of a mugger,
      alert under hooded lids. He is wearing
      red, like the inside of the body
      exposed. I am wearing dark fur, the
      whole skin of an animal taken and
      used. I look at his raw face,
      he looks at my fur coat, and I don't
      know if I am in his power—
      he could take my coat so easily, my
      briefcase, my life—
      or if he is in my power, the way I am
      living off his life, eating the steak
      he does not eat, as if I am taking
      the food from his mouth. And he is black
      and I am white, and without meaning or
      trying to I must profi t from his darkness,
      the way he absorbs the murderous beams of the
      nation's heart, as black cotton
      absorbs the heat of the sun and holds it. There is
      no way to know how easy this
      white skin makes my life, this
      life he could take so easily and
      break across his knee like a stick the way his
      own back is being broken, the
      rod of his soul that at birth was dark and
      fl uid and rich as the heart of a seedling
      ready to thrust up into any available light
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