Believe, Believe by Bob Kaufman reflects upon the good parts of life, wanting to believe in a positive future, not a negative present. He urges the reader to believe in poetry, jazz, and youth.
Believe, Believe by Kaufman could arguably be seen as an antigovernment or establishment poem. It urges the reader to not believe in the government, for they are who create the bomb, negative establishments, pain, and suffering for many. Turn away from these institutions, instead focus on poetry, jazz music, spontaneity, and youth, things that make life interesting, diverse, and exciting.
You can read the full poem Believe, Believe here.
Bob Kaufman splits Believe, Believe into three stanzas. The first stanza measures 4 lines, while the second and third both measure 6 lines. The first half of each stanza focuses on something positive, that thing that should be believed in and cherished. Kaufman then moves on to the negative, using the final half of each stanza to point out what should be ignored. The positioning of the positive images to believe in, before that of the negative, suggests that Kaufman thinks these things are more important, giving them a structural priority.
A technique that Kaufman uses within Believe, Believe, and particularly within the first stanza, is caesuras. By implementing caesuras into his lines, Kaufman slows the meter of the poem, these small breaks in the flow of the poem causing the reader to focus on the images and ideas bring discussed. He uses caesuras after images in which Kaufman thinks the reader should focus, emphasizing them through the structure of his lines
Kaufman also uses Synecdoche within the poem, using a part of something to refer to a whole. This allows for the construction of similes and metaphors, with what is being liked to the synecdoche revealing Kaufman’s personal opinions. For example, the government, represented through ‘blue-suited’, are connected to ‘insects’.
The opening line of Believe, Believe has a caesura and an end stop, meaning that the rhythm of the poem begins slowly, with little pauses throughout. The first instance of this is after ‘Believe in this’, the call to action within the poem being emphasized by Kaufman’s use of caesura. The pause insinuated gives a certain gravity to his statement, with its implications being revealed as the poem continues
The first positive image Kaufman discusses is ‘Young apple seeds’. The idea of youth instantly insinuates an idea of future promise, the potential for that ‘young’ to grow and change being the forefront of his metaphor. Indeed, the idea of a ‘seed’ furthers this concept, with the potential for a seed to grow into something beautiful, useful, or simply interesting promising a positive future. The metaphor within this statement is that we, the reader, are the ‘apple seed’, with Kaufman suggesting that we all have the potential to grow and become stronger, better humans.
He continues, exploring the ‘blue skies’, again focusing on elements of beautiful nature to contextualize the happier half of this first stanza. Even the verb used when describing the light, ‘radiating’ bares a sense of majesty, the incredible scenes one can see within the world being the thing Kaufman urges the reader to remember and ‘Believe in’.
The final two lines of the first stanza then change perspective, with Kaufman instead showing the reader what they should ignore, retreating into the first lines instead. He urges the reader to not place trust in the government, represented by ’blue-suited’. He links them to ‘insects’, with their manipulation of society ‘infesting’ the world.
The ‘Swining sounds of jazz’ insinuate that the poet wants the reader to believe in spontaneity. Jazz is often impromptu, a musician taking over the lead of the piece and drifting away from the original structure. Even with this lack of structure, jazz always remains interesting and lively, with Kaufman urging the reader to treat their own lives like this. Although there may not always be a set path or structure, it is this spontaneity that makes life interesting. The verb used, ‘swinging’, accentuates this idea, the random direction involved in this movement reflecting the idea that ‘jazz’ emphasizes.
There is a balance of chaos and order within the positive half of this stanza. Kaufman suggests that ‘jazz /tearing the night into intricate shreds’ can create disorder with its random nature. Yet, this will always be resolved, ‘putting it back together again’. Indeed, where there is chaos, there is also ‘cool logical patterns’, the balance of nature taking over and remaining a key part of Believe, Believe. When believing in spontaneity, Kaufman suggests that of course there could be negative moments, but there will be just as many positive to balance everything out.
Kaufman then discusses those which should not be focused on, not believing in those ‘who created only the Bomb’. The capitalization of ‘Bomb’ combined with a harsh end stop which follows places emphasis on the word, punctuating the negative side of this stanza with the final horrific implications.
Kaufman uses sound again in this stanza to punctuate his point. Life should be loud, exciting, and spontaneous. He focuses on the ‘voices of dead poets’, hoping that they will ‘ring louder in your ears’. He wants poetry to be heard, taken in, and understood.
Instead of ‘breechings mother in mildewed editorials’, one must listen to the poetry of the past. The structure of this stanza has a change to it. Whereas before the stanza was split into half negative and half positive, this stanza is instead broken up more randomly. The first two lines are positive, the third and fourth negative, the fifth positive, and the final neutral. The more random structure is perhaps reflective of the ideas introduced within the second stanza, with Kaufman applying his own ideas of spontaneity to Believe, Believe.
Kaufman wants the reader to reject the normal, established way of living, focus on the strange, different, and exciting – it is in this variety which the most interesting parts of life begin to show.