Significant Re-Arrangement: A Close Reading of “Pity the Beautiful”

When conducting a close reading of Dana Gioia’s “Pity the Beautiful,” the odd number of stanzas stands out; this observation is accentuated by the fact the third (and middle) stanza acts as a turning point in the poem. Sometimes, poets do this with the intent of creating a comparison between the lines at the beginning and end. It creates a sort of hidden secret to the poem. After trying this in several different ways, the code was cracked. When the first line is compared with the 20th, the 19th with the second, the third with the 18th, and so on; it adds a different dimension of understanding Gioia’s words.

The original poem is broken up into five stanzas that all bring up something to be pitied. The first stanza concerns childlike and feminine beauty, the second stanza describes a masculine beauty, the third stanza lists types of people that non-beautiful people usually envy, the fourth stanza details those who have lost their beauty, and the fifth stanza discusses the loss of purpose. Something that all five stanzas have in common though, is a sense of someone’s success or purpose as being a result of their beauty. Beautiful girls gain success by “daddies / granting their wishes” (stanza one); “pretty boys” and “golden lads” are always followed by success (stanza two); and the “hotties,” “tens out of ten,” and “drop-dead gorgeous” are in the same category as the successful “great leading men” (stanza three). Stanza four compares beauty to luck and claims that when one’s beauty fades, their “luck’s gone lousy,” and stanza five brings up two beautiful entities–gods and stars–and details their loss of purpose. The conclusion drawn from this is that when success is marked by beauty, these people are to be pitied because beauty is fleeting. When old age steals a person’s beauty, their sense of purpose is gone, and that is the real pity.

When the poem is rearranged so that opposing lines are compared, it creates a different sense of what Gioia commands the reader to pity. The idea of loss is brought up at the end of the original poem with two stanzas concerning the loss of physical beauty and a loss of purpose. However, when reading the rearranged poem with the original in mind as well, a sense of loss pervades the entire thing, and new losses emerge that were not seen in the original poem. To begin with, lines one and 20 bring up the concept of lost beauty. While this concept was seen in the original, the direct pairing of “Pity the beautiful,” with “the stars lose their shine” creates a more vivid example of something actively losing its beauty. Lines three and 18 deal with the concept of lost privilege which is not seen in the original. In the original poem,“big daddies” are granting the wishes of beautiful girls; these girls are privileged as a result of their beauty.

However, granting wishes is a divine act. So when the rearranged poem pairs “the babes with big daddies” with “no longer divine,” a loss of the pretty girls’ privilege is the resulting conclusion. The rearranged poem also deals with a loss of divinity and sovereignty in lines 17 and 4: “Pity the gods, / granting their wishes.” Gods, across all religions, are meant to make the rules and reign over people; not the other way around. If gods were to grant every wish of beautiful people, they would lose their divinity and sovereignty as gods. Lastly, in lines five and 16, the rearranged poem conveys the idea that losing beauty is a loss of luck. The original poem mentions this concept in stanza four, but when the rearranged poem pairs “Pity the pretty boys,” with “whose luck’s gone lousy,” it further conveys the idea that beauty is a lucky thing to have. It also commands the reader to pity those whose luck has gone bad.

The original poem and rearranged poem are still essentially the same poem, yet they convey different general themes, as well as differing reasons why the readers should pity the beautiful. The original deals with the concept of success and purpose being a result of beauty; people put their self-worth into their looks, yet beauty is fleeting. The rearranged poem brings out the idea of loss more than the original did; it discusses the loss of beauty, privilege, divinity, and sovereignty, and luck. Overall, the original poem asks the reader to pity the beautiful because their success, self-worth, and purpose are reliant on their fleeting beauty. On the other hand, when the poem is rearranged, the reader is asked to pity the beautiful because the beautiful have more to lose.