Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Poetry: Is The World Really a Beautiful Place?

In my recent poetry workshop, I asked the participants to go to www.poemhunter.com and then bring in a work for the next class that interested them. Tim Pace brought in “The World is a Beautiful Place,” written by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 2003. Ferlinghetti (born March 24, 1919) is an American poet, painter, liberal activist, and the co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. He is an author of poetry, translations, fiction, theatre, art criticism, and film narration, he is best known for A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), a collection of poems that has been translated into nine languages, with sales of over one million copies. Tim has had some of his own works published on Litchatte.com recently. He also said that he had been visiting San Francisco a number of years ago and had been introduced to the poet. Ferlinghetti, along with Allan Ginsberg were among the two most important “beat” poets, a movement which had its strongest notoriety in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Their works heavily influenced the subsequent hippy drop-out and counter-culture movement of the 60’s and 70’s . “The World is a Beautiful Place” makes strong use of irony, purporting to state that the world is happy, but only if you live in heaven and don’t mind a little hell now and then. The poet writes that it’s not so bad if you don’t have a problem with people starving unless you happen to be one of those people. Few people could read the previous lines and think that his stated words should be taken seriously. The poem has an anti-war and anti-authoritarian point of view unless you are a member of the military who is dropping bombs on people, a dead headed intellectual, or a corrupt member of congress. In today’s society, it is redundant to  need to state corrupt and congressmen for most highly powerful political figures. Few categories of the establishment are spared from the vitriol his piercing satirical rant: product marketers, clergymen, the police, and all “foolish” people who cause the poet constipation.

The tone of the last verses shift to mentioning activities that the poet likes the best, which are making love, looking at art, kissing babies, and having fun in the summer. But, why must Ferlinghetti spoil it and remind us that just as we are having fun, comes the “smiling mortician.” Continuing the irony, his observes that the mortician has the most fun when people stop from having fun. My poetry workshop thought that Ferlinghetti’s poem successfully captured the disillusionment of his generation of writers and is still very relevant and timely. I think that the poem is cleverly written and raises many concerns that are universally shared by those who are on the fringes of society or who are compassionate to the plight of those who are suffering and disadvantaged. The last verses point out a central and stark undeniable Truth of Buddhism, which is that everyone human being must ultimately go through suffering and death. However, not everyone must cause others to suffer.  I hope, by now, you are ready to enjoy the poem:

        “The World is a Beautiful Place” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun
if you don’t mind a touch of hell
now and then
just when everything is fine
because even in heaven
they don’t sing
all the time

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t mind some people dying
all the time
or maybe only starving
some of the time
which isn’t half bad
if it isn’t you

Oh the world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t much mind
a few dead minds
in the higher places
or a bomb or two
now and then
in your upturned faces
or such other improprieties
as our Name Brand society
is prey to
with its men of distinction
and its men of extinction
and its priests
and other patrolmen

and its various segregations
and congressional investigations
and other constipations
that our fool flesh
is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
for a lot of such things as
making the fun scene
and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
and singing low songs and having inspirations
and walking around
looking at everything
and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
and even thinking
and kissing people and
making babies and wearing pants
and waving hats and
dancing
and going swimming in rivers
on picnics
in the middle of the summer
and just generally
‘living it up’
Yes
but then right in the middle of it
comes the smiling

 mortician

mortician

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Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education (1973) and in English Literature (2015). He earned a Doctorate in Education in 1987. He is married and has three adult employed daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. Currently, he serves as a literature teacher, board member, and curriculum advisor for the Lifelong Learning Institute in Chesterfield, Virginia, and the founder and chief editor of the literary blog, www.LitChatte.com. He is an editor for the “Correctional Education Magazine,” and editing a book of poetry written by an Indian mystic. He also serves as a board member and occasional volunteer tour guide, poetry judge, and all-around helper at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond Virginia. You can write to Murray by leaving a Comment on this Blog, or at ellisonms2@vcu.edu. You can also receive automatic postings from www.Litchatte.com by submitting your email in the tab to the right of this blog.

Murray Ellison at the Poe Museum
Murray  at the Poe Museum

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