By Daniel Halpern

There are fewer introductions
In plague years,
Hands held back, jocularity
No longer bellicose,
Even among men.
Breathing’s generally wary,
Labored, as they say, when
The end is at hand.
But this is the everyday intake
Of   the imperceptible life force,
Willed now, slow —
Well, just cautious
In inhabited air.
As for ongoing dialogue,
No longer an exuberant plosive
To make a point,
But a new squirreling of air space,
A new sense of  boundary.
Genghis Khan said the hand
Is the first thing one man gives
To another. Not in this war.
A gesture of  limited distance
Now suffices, a nod,
A minor smile or a hand
Slightly raised,
Not in search of   its counterpart,
Just a warning within
The acknowledgment to stand back.
Each beautiful stranger a barbarian
Breathing on the other side of the gate.

Summary of Pandemania

  • Popularity of “Pandemania”: Despite its publication in late 2020 in the book of poems having the same title, Daniel Halpern composed it back in 2013 and published it later in a poetry magazine. The poem captures the mood of human beings during unusual times, such as the pandemic. Although the poem appeared quite early during the previous decade, it captures the exact mood of the public prevalent during the Covid lockdown. The recording of human behavior, clinical precision of the movements, and transformation of the social norms have made this poem a treat to read.
  • “Pandemania” As a Representative of Human Behavior: Pandemania is a representative of the reality of human behavior during the pandemic times. The poem captures the changes in human behavior and interaction that was necessary to slow the spread of the disease. It also describes the cautiousness, distance, and lack of physical contact, elements necessary for people to protect themselves. These changes in behavior have been a reality for millions of people across the globe. The poem, therefore, serves as a powerful reminder of how such a pandemic could disrupt our daily lives. Simultaneously, it also emphasizes the resilience and adaptability of human beings to connect and communicate in the face of adversity.
  • Major Themes in “Pandemania”: Pandemania explores several major themes, such as the impact of the pandemic on human interaction, the fear and anxiety that people experience during times of crisis, and the resilience and adaptability of human beings. The poem shows the need for human connection and the ways people find to reach out to others during trying times. For example, the lines “Each beautiful stranger a barbarian / Breathing on the other side of the gate” reflect the fear and suspicion that people feel toward each other during the pandemic, while the lines “A minor smile or a hand / Slightly raised” suggest how they connect with one another despite the physical distance forced upon them by the pandemic. In this way, the poem is a powerful reflection on the impact of the pandemic on our lives and a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the human spirit.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Pandemania

Daniel Halpern used various literary devices quite skillfully here, and they seem to have enhanced the impact of this poem. Some of the major literary devices are as follows.

  1. Alliteration: It is the repetition of initial consonant sounds in adjacent or closely connected words. For example, “Hands held back” (Line 2) shows the sound of /h/ repeated in the beginning of the successive words or the sound of /w/ in line 27 in “warning within.”
  2. Allusion: It is a reference to a person, place, event, or work of literature that the author expects the reader to recognize. For example, “Genghis Khan said the hand” (Line 19) alludes to the historical figure of Gengez Khan.
  3. Assonance: It is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words. For example, “The end is at hand” (Line 12) shows the use of /o/ sound repeated in the last two words, adding musical quality to the poem.
  4. Consonance: It is the repetition of consonant sounds in close proximity. For example, “A gesture of limited distance” (Line 22) shows the repetition of /s/ and /t/ sounds, adding musicality to this line.
  5. Enjambment: It is the continuation of a sentence or thought from one line of poetry to the next without punctuation. For example, Lines 9-10 show the sentence continues without a pause, showing flow and fluidity in the verses.
  6. Irony: It is a figure of speech in which the intended meaning is different from the literal meaning. For example, “Each beautiful stranger a barbarian / Breathing on the other side of the gate” (Lines 29-30) is contrasting the traditional association of beauty with familiarity to show its novelty.
  7. Personification: It is the attribution of human qualities to inanimate objects or abstract concepts. For example, “Breathing’s generally wary” (Line 6) gives breathing, a human quality, to wariness, an abstract concept.
  8. Repetition: It is the recurrence of words, phrases, or lines for emphasis or rhythmic effect. For example, “No longer” (Lines 4-5) shows the use of repetition intended to emphasize the end of normality.
  9. Symbolism: It means to use symbols to signify ideas, such as the use of war, distance, hand, and air to show the prevalent atmosphere of cautiousness.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Pandemania

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It is the choice of words or vocabulary used in a poem to convey meaning or create a specific tone. The poem shows regular, formal, and meaningful diction۔
  2. Meter: The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry, which creates rhythm. The poem does not follow any metrical pattern.
  3. Free Verse: It means to compose poetry without using any rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. As “Pandemania” has no meter or rhyme scheme, it is a free-verse poem.
  4. Stanza: It is a group of lines within a poem. “Pandemania,” however, is a single-stanza poem having 30 verses.
  5. Tone: This is the attitude or emotion conveyed by the poet towards the subject matter or audience. The tone of the poet in “Pandemania” is not only cautious, concerned, and reflective but also vigilant.

Quotes to be Used

This quote is suitable to use in conversations or discussions about the social dynamics and interactions during the pandemic. It highlights the reduced frequency of people meeting and introducing themselves to one another due to the restrictions and caution imposed by the pandemic.

There are fewer introductions.