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Same Artist, Different Pictures Essay

The way artists can look at a scene in many different lights is very similar to what Earle Birney did when he wrote “January Morning/Downtown Vancouver” and “Vancouver Lights”. An artist can paint a picture of a given setting and then come back and paint a totally different painting of the same subject. The two poems share similarities but where the description of “January Morning/Downtown Vancouver” ends, the theme for “Vancouver Lights” begins. The two poems based on the same setting create entirely different ideas in the readers mind.

Evidently, Birney’s poems both contain very powerful descriptions, but the two descriptions have different effects on the reader. “January Morning/Downtown Vancouver” beautifully describes exactly the title of the poem. However, the poem missing meat or substance, does not require the reader to analyze it in any way. In contrast, the first paragraph of “Vancouver Lights” is also a description, but this only sets the tone and allows the reader to get a feeling of the poems future. For example, when Birney says, “to look on this quilt of lamp is a troubling delight”( Earle Birney, “January Morning/Downtown Vancouver ) implies a hidden meaning where as, “The streets wait outside / chained to their hydrants”( Earle Birney, Vancouver Lights) only describes. Although the poems are written about the same city, the descriptions Birney writes differ and imply different meanings.

Similarities in the two poems are hard to find because they both have different agendas. The immediate understanding of “January Morning/Downtown Vancouver” completely contrasts the intense thought process required to fully understand “Vancouver lights”. Birneys wants the reader to think about mankind’s insignificance and that mankind can create and destroy itself in “Vancouver Lights” where as “January Morning/Downtown Vancouver” needs little analyses, therefore extracting the theme appears difficult because of its simplicity.

When Birney writes, “These Rays were ours / we made and unmade them Not the shudder of continents / doused us the moon’s passion nor the crash of comets” ( Earle Birney, Vancouver Lights) he acknowledges the fact that mankind are creators and destroyers, but in “January Morning/Downtown Vancouver” the reader can not find a phrase that has a deeper meaning. Also, “Vancouver Lights” has numerous references to ancient symbols such as: Phoebus, Nubian, Prometheus, Nebulae and Aldebaran. This puts “Vancouver Lights” on a different level from “January Morning/Downtown Vancouver” because it requires the reader to have some pre-conceived knowledge to understand the theme and meaning of the poem. The simplicity in “January Morning/Downtown Vancouver” and complexity of “Vancouver Lights” makes similarities of the two difficult to uncover, yet the reader can see a direct link between the two because of the setting.

These two poems paint completely contrasting pictures because “January Morning/Downtown Vancouver” only describes while ” Vancouver Lights” requires previous knowledge and in-depth thinking to unlock the theme. The simplicity of “January Morning/Downtown Vancouver” creates detailed images but Birney leaves little to the readers’ imagination. On the other hand, “Vancouver Lights” about the same setting, forces the reader to think and discover the theme on their own. Like an artist can paint different pictures of the same subject, Birney accomplishes this in his poems, “January Morning/Downtown Vancouver” and “Vancouver Lights”


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