Morningside Heights, July

William Matthews


William Matthews

William Matthews was a contemporary American poet born in Cincinnati, Ohio.

He died in 1997 after publishing eleven books of poetry.

‘Morningside Heights, July’ by William Matthews explores a cityscape in July, moving through image after image of the busy city. There is a mixture of human and natural life, the weather is both the opening and closing images of the poem.

Morningside Heights, July by William Matthews



‘Morningside Heights, July’ by William Matthews explores life within a city. Matthews begins with the weather, looking at the ‘Haze’ of the location. He moves through a group of ‘student violinists’, the sound of ‘jackhammers’, the quality of ‘Granular light’ that he sees. Each of the images in the poem follows a different sense, Matthews providing an in-depth depiction of the city. Stories begin to emerge from these images, a woman who ‘call[s] it off’ with ‘a man’, two cab drivers arguing in Farsi. The final few images focus on blending city and nature, the ‘chill air’, and ‘Hail’ sandwiching the city sound of ‘A car alarm’. The poem provides a summer view of a city, everything inside following each other in an eternal hum.

You can read the full poem here.



‘Morningside Heights, July’ by William Matthews is written as one single stanza, measuring 21 lines in total. There is no rhyme scheme of consistent syllable count, the poem being written in free-verse. The poem is exploring the business of a city, with the use of a single stanza perhaps reflecting this idea of a single city being seen as a homogenous whole. The human lives pictured, although different, make up the scene that Matthews sees before him, everything blurring together to represent the city.


Poetic Techniques

One technique that Matthews uses when writing ‘Morningside Heights, July’ is a caesura. By following individual images with a caesura, Matthews ensures that he is splitting up the different pictures of city life. There is a metrical break at each case of caesura, with the slight pause in the rhythm of the line reflecting Matthews turning his attention to a different facet of city life. The sudden break in meter also further depicts the city, the business of differing lives all clashing together being represented by the sporadic, uncontrolled meter.

Another Technique that Matthews uses when writing the poem is enjambment. This technique goes hand in hand with caesura. Instead of fracturing the rhythm of the line, enjambment allows for the meter of one line to flow seamlessly on to the next. The quick flowing from one line to another speeds up the meter, contributing to the chaotic speed of the city. The blurring and mixing of enjambment and caesura both add to the business of the poem, images seemingly interweaving as Matthews changes the meter.


Analysis of Morningside Heights, July

Lines 1-4

Haze. Three student violists boarding
and the heat for a coat of paint.

The poem begins with a single word, ‘Haze’, then followed by a harsh caesura. Matthews sets the scene of the poem, focusing first on the weather before plunging into descriptions of city life.

Matthews depicts ‘Three student violinists boarding/a bus’, the use of enjambement perhaps reflecting their own movements. Again, following this description, Matthew uses a caesura to indicate that he is moving on to the next image.

The next explores a sound, the ‘clatter of jackhammers’ creating an audible sense of the poem. This is coupled with a further visual descriptor, the sun creating a ‘Ganaular light’ that provides ‘sweat’ and ‘heat’, acting differently in differing situations. The focus on ‘heat’ from this ‘light’ adds to the positive atmosphere of the poem, the warmth radiating from this image giving the poem a positive light.


Lines 5-13

A man and a woman on a bench:
collide; someone yells fuck in Farsi.

It is on the 5th line that the first story of the poem is told. A woman tells a man she is sitting with that ‘he must be psychic’ as he has predicted that ‘she’d need to call it off’. The woman doesn’t understand how he knew this, ‘even before she knew’, therefore giving him the title of ‘psychic’.

Following this image, Matthews conjures ‘A bicyclist’ holding a ‘whistle’ between his teeth. There is a struggle to keep the whistle there, ‘clamped/hard between his teeth’. Due to the effort, he is exerting on the bicycle, the man is ‘shilling like a teakettle/on the boil’, panting and causing the whistle held in his mouth to sound loudly. Another layer of noise is therefore drawn upon by Matthews, the piercing sound of a whistle traveling with the ‘bicyclist’.

Not far from this scene ‘Two cabs almost/collide’, just missing. The actual sense of the cars just missing each other is exuded from the enjambment across these sentences, the word ‘collide’ separated from the ‘two cabs’ and placed on another line, representing how they did not actually crash. From this near-crash, someone ‘yells fuck in Farsi’, another sound penetrating the poem.


Lines 14-21

I’m sorry, she says. The comforts
in the leaves. A car alarm. Hail.

Following the above story of the woman dumping her now ex-boyfriend, she apologizes to him, but he doesn’t say anything back. Around him ‘the comforts of loneliness fall in’, the poet suggesting this man, perhaps actually representing the poet himself, is now alone. The almost oxymoronic connection of ‘comforts’ and ‘loneliness’ is strange within the poem, furthering the sense of chaos and oddity the busy city holds. This emotion of ‘feel strange’ is ‘familiar’ to the poet, Matthews identifying with the man’s feelings.

A single ‘cat’ passes a corner, its body described as ‘liquid’, being able to ‘slink’ around the corner as if it wasn’t solid at all. The image of something leaving could relate to the man’s current situation, left alone by the woman on the bench.

Nature returns, ‘The sky blurs-there’s a storm coming’, a signal that portends to the end of the poem. This ‘storm’, in light of the man’s recent breakup, could also be seen as a metaphor for depression. The final image focuses back on the weather, ‘Hail’, providing a complete circle from the beginning of the poem. The man is now alone, the storm has broken, raining on him as he is left alone.

Jack Limebear Poetry Expert
Jack is undertaking a degree in World Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team in 2019. Poetry is the intersection of his greatest passions, languages and literature, with his focus on translation bridging the gap.

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