Uploaded by Heather Burke

Flames and Dangling Wire

Flames and Dangling Wire
Flames and Dangling Wire depicts a post-apocalyptic landscape to encourage the reader to reevaluate our present impact on the world, in this poem the persona adopts the identity of a seer or
prophet, warning us. Gray’s repeated use of collective pronouns throughout the poem when “We
turn down a gravel road, approaching the dump,” has the effect of drawing in the responder to
contemplate their own actions. Later on, the demonic ferryman implicates the reader through an
inclusive “hatred of men,” which reminds the audience that ‘we’ are part of the culture that has
created the dump and 'we’ must choose whether these discoveries broaden our understandings for
the better, or, propel us toward inevitable, hellish doom. Gray attempts to broaden our perceptions
regarding our present cultural excesses, starting with our comfortable yet unsustainable urban
lifestyle. The simile “behind us, the city/ driven like stakes into the earth” juxtaposes “stakes”
commonly used in growing healthy gardens with the contradictory idea of violence. This challenges
the reader to see the city in new way: as imposed upon the earth and destroying it. Gray then
attempts to broaden our understanding of the perhaps previously concealed consequences of the
city’s existence, namely, the unsustainable creation of waste on such a scale that the broken “cars
like skulls” are “rolling in their sand dune shapes”. This motif of waste and rubbish which is symbolic
of mankind’s consumerist tendencies is carried through to the end of the poem as the persona
notices “an old radio, that spills/ its dangling wire” and realises “that somewhere the voices it
received/ are still travelling”. Here, the use of enjambment strongly emphasises that the sound
waves are travelling throughout the vast universe across a great distance. Through this image, Gray
closes with the futile idea that humanity has lost control over what it has created and the farreaching impacts of it. In the beginning, Gray challenged the consumerist lifestyle of the audience
that had created the dump with his use of inclusive pronouns and similes. Later on, however, he
moves on to challenge the worth of human progress and human achievement through his futile
depiction of art, which are rarely reassessed by people in a civilization.