"What work is" by Phillip Levine

Essay by joanjettUniversity, Bachelor's June 2004

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After reading the various definitions of the word 'wait' I have noticed that there are quite a few different meanings. One of these is "wait on or wait upon - to attend as a servant" another is "wait - to remain stationary in readiness or expectation" and still another would be "wait - to remain temporarily neglected or unrealized".

The definition I chose to focus on is the third, "to remain temporarily neglected or unrealized". When reading the poem "What Work Is" by Philip Levine this is the definition that fit's the context of the piece. The poem speaks of a man who is waiting in a long line for the chance to be interviewed for a job. He describes the thoughts and feelings he has during this time. He talks about work, or the lack of, and how this has taken a toll on him. The word 'wait' is associated with the main character in the story with hope because he is the one applying for the position and by the interviewer with feelings of despair because the news he must give to these people is not good.

In lines 17 - 21 of "What Work Is" Levine writes, "the sad refusal to give in to/

rain, to the hours wasted waiting,/

to the knowledge that somewhere ahead/

a man is waiting who will say, "No,/

we're not hiring today," for any/

reason he wants./

The author chooses to use the word wait many times throughout the piece and in many instances the meanings are quite opposite.

When we understand the etymology of a word it gives us an inside view of all the meanings, some we may not have realized. In the English language words are used in many different kinds of ways...