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Brian Lam

Mr. Gallagher

AP Literature

10 January 2011

“I the People” Explication

In “I the People,” Alice Notley examines how all humans are connected, yet be so self-

centered to one another even when unity exists in life. Notley’s historical reference to Preamble

of the U.S. Constitution guides her poem as she switches the title from “We the People” to “I the

people.” It is of great importance that the U.S. Constitution should not be ignored in analyzing

Notley’s poem because her interpretation of unity is based upon it. The poem has a twisted

paradox, which Notley examines the behavior of human beings.

From lines 1-13, Notley presents how humans came to be and how unity was once

unstable. In lines 2-3, Notley uses a combination of simple verbs and prepositions to show how

human “came to be.” Here she included “I the People,” which signify how humans were self-

centered back then. However, from lines 4-6, she uses the pronoun “we” to show how the birth

of humans were connected, but there is also a big indentation to show that the unity has been

disrupted. Then from lines 11-13, Notley says, “We hope we are notes from the music scale of

heaven,” emphasizing there is still hope in life because everything is connected. The paradoxical

view that Notley examines becomes ever changing to her knowledge.

From lines 14-26, Notley emphasizes on unity as a bond. She talks about how humans are

“so repetitious,” yet “loosely” holds the neighbors. The importance of her paradox helped to

describe humans having two kinds of personality – caring and uncaring. The changing between

the two personalities further complex human behavior for unity. Without care, unity does not
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exist. However, with care, humans would thrive in interacting with one another. Notley also talks

about the difference between how groups of people feel and how an individual feels. How groups

of people feel collectively concerns more about the overall human condition, using Notley’s

words such as “We, people, our, all (26).” Her word choices to separate from the “I” and “We”

conveys an independent and dependent outlook of how to perceive the world.

From lines 27- 50, Notley conveys the acceptance for unity to progress. She says that the

“opening words” resembles humans have become united as a whole overtime, changing from

individualistic self-centered behavior to a more caring behavior (27). The “opening words”

suggested from the U.S. Constitution is relevant to her idea of democracy in order to unite people

as a whole. The emotional feeling that Notley gives emphasizes unity, which comes from

“hearing and saying at the double edge of body & breath (30). Her last few lines of the poem

says that the “I” in people cannot work alone and would fail to do so, in comparison to working

together as a whole.

Notley’s poem creates an in-depth complexity of how human behaviors decide to either

work alone or work as a whole. Her intricate lines of the poem are carefully crafted, with deep

historical reference of democracy. The paradoxical nature of her poem is a focus on how the U.S.

government and American people are behaving so divisively on politics. The distinction between

the “I” and “We” nevertheless differs because of many different opinions of where unity should

lie amongst humans.