An Extraordinary Morning

Philip Levine

‘An Extraordinary Morning’ by Philip Levine is a moving poem that exalts and admires the brotherly love shared between two laborers enjoying being off the clock.

Philip Levine

Nationality: American

Philip Levine was an American poet born in 1928 in Detroit.

He experienced the Great Depression of the 1930s and the wars of the mid 20th century.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: There is something sublimely beautiful and human in sharing little joys like being off work

Speaker: A person who admires working class people

Emotions Evoked: Amusement, Empathy, Optimism

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 21st Century

Philip Levine's poem stumbles upon a seemingly ordinary scene that is rendered glorious and grand through the poet's venerating imagery and figurative language.

Like so many of Philip Levine’s poems, ‘An Extraordinary Morning’ casts a solemn eye toward the working class. Honing in on a scene of quiet revelry as two young men celebrate the end of the workweek as they await the streetcar that will carry them downtown toward a weekend of leisure.

Narrated by the poet’s gently wise voice, the poem portrays these two companions with reverent tenderness. While also rooting the poem in Levine’s desire to capture the everyday camaraderie that buoys humanity through life. Here, that ardent sentiment emerges as a question from the speaker, who earnestly asks: “Are they truly brothers?”


‘An Extraordinary Morning’ by Philip Levine illustrates the after-work rituals of two youthful working-class men.

‘An Extraordinary Morning’ opens with the speaker setting the scene: “Two young men” stand waiting for a streetcar to take them downtown. The duo is exhausted and dirty but also elated because their workweek is over, and they’ve just been paid — a paltry sum to others but riches to them. The speaker then inquires about the nature and closeness of their relationship.

They remark to the listener that they might inquire with the “husky one” as they appear to be friendly, especially because of how they dance to the song “Sweet Lorraine.” But if their “mocking tone” is too off-putting, they might ask their companion who stands leaning against the door of a closed restaurant. The speaker tells the reader they should impart how “crucial” it is to know if they share a “brotherly love.”

The speaker reassures the listener that the man won’t get angry because he’s too tired for such a diminishing emotion and too happy to be off work. He won’t laugh either, though he will find your question peculiarly funny. After all, today is considered holy in its own way to both men. They are neither “devout / nor cynical,” and the only way they know how to worship is by doing exactly what they’re currently doing: enjoying a moment of liberating leisure.

Structure and Form

‘An Extraordinary Morning’ is written in free verse and, as a result, lacks any formal meter or rhyme scheme. Its cadence is instead dictated by the lively imagery of Levine’s sentences and the use of caesura. The poem consists of 29 lines that are both end-stopped and contain examples of enjambment.

Literary Devices

‘An Extraordinary Morning’ contains the following literary devices:

  • Auditory Imagery: imagery that focuses on illustrating sound, as when the speaker describes they way one of the men “sings / ‘Sweet Lorraine'” (11-12).
  • Kinesthetic Imagery: imagery relating to movement, as in the “snapping / [of] his fingers while he shakes his ass” (10-11) or “the one whose eyelids flutter in time / with nothing” (15-16).
  • Visual Imagery: The poem creates a variety of visual moments of the “two young men—you just might call them boys— / waiting for the Woodward streetcar” (1-2), which include physical descriptions such as when the speaker refers to “the husky one, the one / in the black jacket he fills to bursting” (8-9).

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-7

Two young men—you just might call them boys—

waiting for the Woodward streetcar to get

them downtown. Yes, they’re tired, they’re also

dirty, and happy. Happy because they’ve

finished a short work week and if they’re not rich

they’re as close to rich as they’ll ever be

in this town. Are they truly brothers?

In the opening lines of ‘An Extraordinary Morning,’ the speaker establishes the poem’s central characters and subjects as “two young men—you just might call them boys—” (1-2). Even before we’re given an in-depth description of the two men, Levine’s imagery and diction begin to idealize them.

First, he juxtaposes their physical exhaustion and grimy appearance with romantic youthfulness and vitality. They’re tired but also “dirty and happy” (4). Revealing them as beat but also persistently joyful because their workweek has ended and they’re “as close to rich as they’ll ever be” (6).

This leads us to their humbling perception of their respective paychecks. Not only are they happy over anticipating some hard-earned rest and relaxation — but they’re also immensely grateful for the meager sum they have to spend. It’s here that the speaker poses the rhetorical question that echoes for an answer throughout the poem: “Are they truly brothers?” (7)

Lines 8-17

You could ask the husky one, the one
in the black jacket he fills to bursting;
he seems friendly enough, snapping
his fingers while he shakes his ass and sings

In this next collection of lines from ‘An Extraordinary Morning, the speaker continues their descriptions of the two men waiting for a downtown-bound streetcar. Levine attaches the imagery to the speaker’s suggestions of which of the men the listener should ask this “crucial” (16) question about “brotherly love” (17).

The first man is described as being larger than the other; he is “husky” (8) and “bursting” (9) from the black jacket he wears. But his size is not meant to be intimidating, and the speaker admits he “seems friendly enough, snapping / his fingers while he shakes his ass and sings” (10-11), enrapt in the joyous revelry of the popular jazz standard “Sweet Lorraine.”

Yet the speaker admits that this man’s bold extroversion can giveaway to some teasing or jeering, which might lead the listener to prefer the much more reserved second man. Despite his lack of audacious movement, he is still keenly animate, as the speaker notes his “eyelids flutter in time / with nothing” (15-16).

Lines 18-29

get angry, he’s too tired for anger,
too relieved to be here, he won’t even laugh
though he’ll find you silly. It’s Thursday,
maybe a holy day somewhere else, maybe

‘An Extraordinary Morning’ continues with the speaker explaining that the men won’t get angry if the listener intrudes upon their celebration and asks them this vital question about brotherhood. Reiterating once more that they are too tired and too relieved to be anything but happy.

The speaker then reveals that it’s Thursday, musing that somewhere, there’s someone who probably considers it a holy day. This allusion to religion adds a spiritual or at least sacred meaning to the men’s revelries. Levine implies that although they are “neither devout / nor cynical” (22-23) and don’t know how to worship, there is still something immensely sublime about the whole scene.

Rooted in their shared jubilation, everything from the song being sung to the way their bodies inhale and exhale, “the used and soiled air” (27) becomes symbols of the admirably robust and sumptuous spirit of the working class individual.


What is the theme of ‘An Extraordinary Morning?

One of the poem’s themes is expressed via the speaker’s marveling tone and descriptions of the two men. Through it is heard Levine’s championing of the day laborer who toils away assuming the burden of America on their broad shoulders. But it also gets at the undercurrent of camaraderie that sustains such men in their essential but still oppressive employment.

Why did Philip Levine write ‘An Extraordinary Morning?

Levine often exalts the lives and labors of blue-collar workers in his poetry. This poem takes a slightly different approach and instead examines men who’ve just clocked out for an early start to their weekend. One of the reasons the poet might’ve chosen to focus on their leisure time instead of a moment on the job is because it allowed them to create a portrait of the working man that isn’t solely rooted in their disadvantaged and exploited position.

What is the meaning of the poem’s title?

The poem’s seemingly hyperbolic title highlights Levine’s profound respect for working-class people. One that places immense universal and personal significance upon the simple revelry of two men excited to be off work.

Why are the two men described as being “disguised as filth” in the poem?

The speaker describes the men’s grimy and dirty appearance in a positive light. Serving as a symbol of their hardy and dedicated work ethic. But it also reveals the prejudices levied towards those who do hard labor that might superficially judge them based on appearances alone.

Similar Poems

If you enjoyed this poem by Philip Levine, be sure to check out some more of his works below:

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An Extraordinary Morning

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Philip Levine (poems)

Philip Levine

This poem by Philip Levine revolves around an unguarded moment of revelry shared between two young men as they enjoy their anticipation of a hard-earned long weekend. The poet's focused illustration on both paints a portrait that's guided by his reverence and appreciation for the virtues of camaraderie. It also reveals the dignity he sees manifest in working-class people.
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21st Century

Although this poem was published in the 21st century, many of Philip Levine's poems stem from his experiences growing up in Detroit during the Great Depression of the 1930s and life in mid-century America. Their personal first-person speakers explore the harsh realities of industrial cities and the strife of working-class families, as well as racial tensions.
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Philip Levine was an important American writer whose work celebrated working-class people. His poems highlight the struggles such people faced attempting to buoy themselves against poverty, often in bleak illustrations of blue-collar life. But this poem differs in that trend by presenting a purely joyous image of two men savoring the appreciated fruits of their labor.
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One of the core themes of this poem by Philip Levine is an expression of celebratory joy. This festivity is rooted in the relief shared by two men who've just finished an unexpectedly short work week and are now looking forward to relishing the money and freedom they've earned from it.
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The love that is expressed in Philip Levine's poem is a brotherly kind. It's one founded on the shared experience of the two men as blue-collar workers, as both understand the immense toll of such work. Yet the speaker of the poem earnestly implies there is more to their bond than just being coworkers. Rather, it's their shared revelry that solidifies their relationship.
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A theme of Philip Levine's poem is its portrayal of relationships like the one shared between the two men. All the imagery in the poem revolves around the duo as they wait for a streetcar to take them downtown. While throughout, the speaker urges us to ask them to clarify their relationship. It's almost as if the speaker is in search of bold examples of such camaraderie and, having possibly found one, is anxious for proof it's the real deal
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One of the minor emotions created by the poem is this sense of amusement that stems from the scene. There is a frivolity injected into the poem by the speaker's characterizations of the two men, who appear lighthearted and cheerful. This is evidenced by their unabashed dancing to their imagined benevolent reactions to questions.
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The poem inspires a certain amount of empathy from the reader. Like many of Philip Levine's poems that celebrate everyday working people, this one seeks to establish an emotional connection between its subject and the reader. That effect is made all the more potent by the poet's descriptive imagery and affectionately triumphant diction.
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A powerful emotion found in Philip Levine's poem is a grand sense of optimism. This infectious positivity stems from the exceptional feeling that comes with the two highlights of blue-collar work: time off and getting paid. The two men who are the subject of this poem are consumed by the anticipatory bliss of enjoying both, and that exuberant hope is imparted to the reader as well.
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The two men who appear in this poem by Philip Levine might not be biological brothers, but they are connected by a similarly unbreakable bond. Throughout the poem, the speaker insinuates their relationship is forged in a brotherly love; one built on spending long hours working alongside one another. As a result, the poem touches on the poet's resounding belief in the shared pride and dignity of blue-collar workers.
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Hard Workers

Philip Levine's poems often feature people whose occupation would best be defined as hard labor. Their exact occupations might be ambiguous, though it's still clear the work these two men do is physically draining, as it's left them both tired and covered in the grime of their toils. Despite this, the speaker marvels at them and appears to echo their celebratory mood.
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The title of this poem by Philip Levine indicates to the reader that it takes place in the morning. This detail reveals that the two men spent their night working long hours, making their hard-earned short week all the more appreciated. It also touches on dawn's symbolism as a moment of renewal and new beginnings.
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Music is a topic mentioned in Philip Levine's poem. This music comes in the form of a song that's listened to, danced to, and sung by the two men titled "Sweet Lorraine." It serves as one of the unifying pieces of the two men's celebratory fellowship, one that underscores their shared joy and love.
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Free Verse

Philip Levine typically wrote in free verse, using it as a means of conveying both the sound and tempo of everyday life. As many of his poems were about working-class folks trying to earn a living, his poetic structure and style often reflected the vernacular of blue-collar workers. This poem is a great example of the ways in which Levine creates his own unique cadence.
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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.

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