Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

An Analysis of The Pennycandystore Beyond the El

Posted by Michael Dickens on September 1, 2010

A poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
               fell 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

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

A wind had blown away the sun

A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room

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

This is a deep poem which is often misinterpreted. It has been interpreted to represent childhood, but at a deeper analysis it is understood to tell the story of the downfall of mankind.

To examine the poem line by line:

The pennycandystore beyond the El

This represents the fact that life is cheap and people are reckless with it. This means not just individual life, but the life of society.

is where I first / fell in love

Here, the narrator actually represents the personified End of Humanity. The End fell in love with humanity and because of this realized that He had to bring humanity to its doom.

Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom

The jellybean represents humans. Even at the end of our days, we glow with brightness and strength. Alas, it is not to be for much longer.

of that september afternoon

Humanity is waning. It is autumn, late in the afternoon. This is a double-metaphor for the waning of humanity. The afternoon represents the waning of individual life, while September is near the closing of the year — humanity is almost over.

A cat upon the counter moved along / the licorice sticks / and the tootsie rolls / and Oh Boy Gum

Nature, as represented by the cat, is unperturbed by human civilization and merely steps around it. The fact that humans are represented by candy is not simply ironic because of their inanimateness, but also speaks to the frailty of man. We are but a lowly species that could be easily devoured by nature.

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

Leaves, like candy, represents humanity. In fact, all the inanimate objects in this poem represent humanity. Like candy, leaves are helpless and fragile. Leaves are only part of a larger being; an individual leaf is virtually meaningless. Humanity is dying, and will soon fall from the tree of life.

A wind had blown away the sun

The sun epitomizes the last hope for humanity. More than any other symbol, the sun gives life. We cannot survive long without the sun; and, even in the direst of circumstances, it is still possible to survive as long as the sun is there. But when the sun — a seemingly immovable object, grounding the the very force of human life — is blown away by a casual wind, humanity becomes truly doomed.

A girl ran in

The girl in this poem can only represent God. At the dusk of mankind, She at last steps in to try to save humanity.

Her hair was rainy

Rain is the opposite of sun; where sun gives life, rain brings darkness. Even God is covered in rain, even God cannot stop the End. The great shadow cast by the End falls over not just humanity, but God Herself.

Her breasts were breathless in the little room

A woman’s breasts symbolize nurturing. God has the power to nurture humanity, but She is breathless, i.e. weak: she no longer has the power to help us.

Outside the leaves were falling

Notable here is the repetition of the falling of the dry, crumpled and lifeless humanity. This is arguably the most important portion of the poem. It serves to re-emphasize that we are utterly doomed, that our time is coming soon and we are powerless to stop it.

and they cried

Here “cried” doesn’t just mean that the leaves shouted, but it they actually wept at their own demise.

Too soon! too soon!

We don’t want our legacy to end. But there is nothing we can do about it. Even God cannot save us now. The End is coming, and the End cannot be stopped. All hope for humanity is gone.

6 Responses to “An Analysis of The Pennycandystore Beyond the El”

  1. Bort said

    This is embarrassing to read. Shame on you.

  2. I don’t know if this was Ferlinghetti’s original meaning, but your interpretation has created a beautiful and haunting image, especially of humanity glowing even as all light fades away.

  3. abigail cato said

    i dont see it like dis

    • Jim said

      Whaaat? You don’t? Amazing! It’s so obvious. No doubt you think Wordsworth’s little ditty is about daffodils and have no idea whatsoever that they represent the hunchback of Notre Dame. Read it again and all will become clear – assuming you get to it before WWIII (which is what is really meant by the cloud that floats on high – although you probably did know that). Any other poems ready for butchering?

  4. wordguild said

    This poem is about a boy who, pursing boyish enthusiasms, suddenly discovers something more interesting than the candy that glows with promise on the counter of the penny candy store . I agree that it is a deep poem, but not for the labored and overly depressing reasons you do– the power of this poem is in the sudden awakening of sexual awareness, paired with an awareness of transcience, of death. . . the boy seeing athe girl as an object of desire for the first time while also aware of the leaves falling outside, dying–too soon–he is suddenly and poignantly aware of the joy life promises, and of its brevity.

  5. Jim said

    This is an utterly absurd interpretation. The intended meaning is clear and I have no doubt, personal in the memory of every heterosexual male. Michael, forgive me for asking but are you by an chance gay?

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