Infinite Number of Monkeys

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The poem “An Infinite Number of Monkeys” is what I thought I hated about poetry. I believed this type of “nonsense” poetry was just pointless and had no true discernable meaning. However, through careful examination and proper analyzation of poetic concepts, a mere poem is able to tell far more than one ever thought possible.

While creating “An Infinite Number of Monkey” Ronald Koertge takes on an unconventional persona. To me, this role is one who is empathetic and is able to look at other sides of a situation. For example, the situation of infinite monkeys hitting random keys was conceived as a thought experiment to try to quantify how vast the concept of infinite really is. However, the writer takes this situation onto an emotional and real level. With lines like “the book / of poems they type is the saddest / in history”, the persona of the writer is looking past the theoretical nature of the situation and addressing how these captive monkeys might feel. The direct effect of the author’s persona in this poem is that it goes a long way towards changing the situation to a viable serious topic. By this I mean that at first the popular image of millions of monkeys is either simply funny or plain irrelevant, but during this poem, the reader doesn’t see the situation as such. These feelings stemming from the author’s persona are what create the tone of the poem.

The main subject of this poem appears to be the aforementioned concept of monkeys and typewriters. However, when applying the feelings of the persona, the poem becomes less about the scenario and more about the monkeys themselves. About how they are producing their works of Shakespeare and can only finish when “that Someone / who is always / looking to look away”. The vague “Someone” emphases how they are captives. The author goes on to call humiliation and grief the “great subjects of Monkey / Literature”. Combined these two tones of captivity and humiliation shows the author’s feelings how monkeys writing Shakespeare is fitting. It is my analysis that through this poem he is expressing his thoughts that monkeys, who are constantly subjugated by man, would best know the “humiliation and grief” of Shakespeare works. The effect of these tones exposes the poetic irony of monkeys writing tragedies to the reader. The feel of this poem is largely brought out by the form in which it is written.

The form of this poem differs from the standard form of simple lines. The lines are in groups of three with two longer lines followed by one shorter one for example

After all the Shakespeare, the book
of poems the type is the saddest
in history.

Although hard to articulate, the form of “An Infinite Number of Monkeys” somehow seems to follow the flow of how one would actually read the poem. Also, the poem is written in complete sentences which may be a form of contrast to the jumble of words that monkeys would have written. Closely related to this form are the patterns which can be found in “An Infinite Number of Monkeys”.

Since the poem is fairly short, one may have trouble finding any definite patterns as few things can be repeated in such a short piece. One similarity I found was the capitalization of prominent words. Each of these words seems to be important to a specific section of the work. One is “Shakespeare” in the first line. Another is “Someone” in the second group of lines, and last “Monkey Literature in the second to last group of lines.

While this pattern may seem random and unimportant, to me it marks the movement of the section of this poem. The first, “Shakespeare”, may appear to be unrelated since it is a proper noun, but I think marks the first section of explanation. It emphasizes the use of Shakespeare and the inherent sadness of his works. According my perceived emphasis I would name that section “Book of Poems”. That name captures the purpose and subject of the poem. The next two paragraphs highlight how the monkeys are captured and trapped by “Someone”. The vagueness of this section is brilliant, in that it can be used as a metaphor for many other things that just monkeys. I would label this section “Captivity” since that is the prevailing theme. The final two paragraphs of the poem combine the idea of monkeys writing a book and the captivity to show the “humiliation and grief” of “Monkey Literature”. “Degradation” would be my final label because this status of degradation is a result of the two above section. This movement from the sadness and oppression to humiliation is how I believe the poem flows. The effect of this is a story that is more relatable that one might believe at first glance. The themes of humiliation are one of the most universal presences throughout human life.

To understand the implications of this poem is quite frankly far beyond my abilities. However, with the application of analytical poetry techniques I am at least given a better idea of how “An Infinite Number of Monkeys” is constructed and the feelings it is conveying.





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