The titular poem of Charles Simic’s poetry collection Classic Ballroom Dances (1980) is about the simple annals of life. Simic tries to connect the idea of Ballroom dancing, previously a social gathering for the privileged, to the daily activities of our lives. He can see beyond the veil of simplicity and capture the art: be it couples dancing amorously in a Union Hall or a grandmother wringing a chicken’s neck, there is art in each and every act of humankind.
Explore Classic Ballroom Dances
‘Classic Ballroom Dances’ by Charles Simic describes the daily acts of a few human beings and compares those to the idea of dancing/art.
This piece presents a set of images in each stanza. The first stanza begins with two sets of images. Simic depicts how the grandmothers wring the necks of chickens and old nuns pull the naughty schoolboys by the ear. Even a pickpocket’s intricate movement captures his attention. He connects these daily acts to the art of dancing in the final stanza of the poem.
You can read the full poem here.
Stanzas Two and Three
Grandmothers who wring the necks
Of chickens; old nuns
At the scene of an accident; the slow shuffle
Of the evangelist with a sandwich board;
Charles Simic’s ‘Classic Ballroom Dances’ is an image-rich poem. In each stanza, readers can find two sets of images, each portraying simple yet interesting clicks on the course of life. For instance, the first quatrain presents the picture of grandmothers wringing the necks of chickens. This homely imagery takes us to a rural region where older women are seen doing such daily chores.
The next image is of the old nuns who teach in a convent or Christian missionary school. Simic specifically draws attention to their names that often appear to us while thinking about such schools. They are seen pulling the naughty schoolboys by the ear.
In the next stanza, Simic describes the actions of pickpockets. They intricately step into the crowded areas and finely get their job done. Readers often find them amidst a curious gathering at a scene of an accident. In the last lines, the poet juxtaposes the image of an evangelist or preacher who shuffles with a sandwich board.
Stanzas Three and Four
The hesitation of the early-morning customer
Peeking through the window grille
Where they also hold charity raffles
On rainy Monday nights of an eternal November.
The third stanza of ‘Classic Ballroom Dances’ similarly poses another set of pictures dealing with some simple, daily acts. Simic depicts how an early morning customer peeks through the window grille of a pawnshop. Pawnshops are generally a store that lends money for a valuable thing. The customer appears to be a poor person who needs money to buy food for his family.
The next image deals with the movement of a little kid. He weaves while walking with eyes closed on the way to his school. The quick and playful movement of the school-going kid is compared to the art of dancing present in the last stanza.
The last stanza presents the main image dealing with two ancient lovers. They are dancing in a Union Hall by holding each other closely. The lovers also hold raffles or lotteries for charity on rainy Monday nights of an everlasting November. In this way, the poet compares each and every act to classic Ballroom dancing.
Simic’s ‘Classic Ballroom Dances’ is a free-verse poem. It does not have a regular rhyme or meter. The poet uses a few internal rhymings within the lines. Apart from that, the text consists of a total of four quatrains or stanzas having four lines. Simic connects the idea of each stanza with the final one. Hence, there is no incongruity in the overall text. Regarding the point of view, it is written from a third-person speaker’s perspective. The speaker is none other than the poet himself.
Readers can find the following literary devices in Simic’s ‘Classic Ballroom Dances’.
- Enjambment: This device is used throughout the text. Simic connects the first three stanzas with the last one by using this device.
- Imagery: Simic uses a number of visual images in the text. For instance, the third stanza depicts how a customer peeks through the grilles of a pawnshop.
- Alliteration: It occurs in “crowd of the curious,” “slow shuffle,” etc.
- Simile: This device is used in the line “With names like Theresa, Marianne.”
Charles Simic’s poem ‘Classic Ballroom Dances’ presents a number of pictures of daily activities like wringing chicken’s neck, stealing, walking, etc. Simic interestingly connects all these images to the idea of Ballroom dancing.
The poem was first published in 1980 in Charles Simic’s one of the well-known collections, Classic Ballroom Dances.
It is a free-verse poem that consists of a total of four quatrains. There is no set rhyme scheme or metrical pattern in the text. Besides, the poem is written from the perspective of a third-person speaker.
This piece taps on a number of themes that include dancing, art, simplicity, and life. Simic associates the idea of dancing (art) to each and every human act ranging from stealing to walking leisurely.
The following list contains a number of poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Charles Simic’s poem ‘Classic Ballroom Dances’.
- ‘Everybody Is Doing It’ by Benjamin Zephaniah — This piece depicts a number of dance forms in order to show a general sameness in various fields.
- ‘Danse Russe’ by William Carlos Williams — This poem is about a speaker who dances naked before a mirror.
- ‘The Dance’ by William Carlos Williams — This poem is written in response to Pieter Brueghel’s painting “Peasant Dance”.
You can also explore more Charles Simic poems.