Analysis of Upside-Down by Alexander Kushner

The poem “Upside-Down” is a humorous poem by AlexanderKushner who has published 15 collections of poetry as well as two prose works. The central character of the poem is an eccentric person called “Upside-Down”. As the name suggests, he acts in a very absurd manner, making everything upside down.


Once there lived an Upside-Down
Who was the talk of all the town.
If he was told to turn to right
He turned to left out of spite.

The character Upside-Down is introduced as a jester or a laughingstock in the town who does the exact opposite to what he is told. Why would one do the exact opposite of what they are expected to do? All the people talk about him, that means he is the center of attraction in the society. Can’t this be the reason for his behavior or is he a rebellious character?

 If he went sailing in a boat
 No one could make him understand
Why he seem to be afloat
 And what had happened to the land.

He is introduced as a person who cannot understand simple logics like how a boat floating on water. Does this create humor?  or should we feel sympathy about this character? The jumbled rhyming pattern may question this mind set of the people in the society.

He read his letters backside-fore,
And wrote his letters backside-fore.
So if a “ton” was to be read
He read it “not,” the dunder-head!

The poet introduces Upside-Down as the ‘dunder-head’ means the foolish person. He does this because of the disorderly manner he writes and read. Can’t this be a reason of a mental disorder? There are people who read in reverse order and there are some people who write backward; that is because of a mental disorder which has to be tackled carefully and cure it. By introducing this kind of character, the poet may be trying to give the message to the reader to understand the people around us not to laugh at their weaknesses.   

 All his life he was afraid
 To cross a bridge. He’d always wade
 (Unless the water was too deep
 Or the embankment was too steep.)

Here the character is introduced as a funny person who wade across rivers or canals when there is a bridge to cross. What would you do when you see someone doing this? (You exactly know that this person is such a character) The incident, of course creates humor, you should laugh! However, If we sit back and think about phobias the people have in the world, you will sympathize this poor fellow. The poet sounds ironically humorous but he seems to be doing the same thing. The poem may have the upside down meaning!

He went into a restaurant;
The waiter said, “What do you want?”
He said, “I’d like a pair of socks
With clocks on them, and in a box.”

Upside Down enters a restaurant and requests the opposite things which are not available in a restaurant! (that is too wrapped in a box; humorous it is!) Why someone do something like that? He may be actually absurd in behavior or he is propagating new news about him to earn the attraction. Or else, he likes people getting angry!   

 The circus came to town one day;
 Of course he went without delay.
 And everyone said Upside-Down
 Was funnier than the circus clown.

According to the stanza, it is obvious that this person attracts to audience like a nail to the magnet and he succeeds, because all the people who came to the circus talk about him.

Just yesterday the postman brought
A letter to him from his aunt:
“Shall I read it? P’raps I ought,
P’raps I will, p’raps I can’t.”

Upside-Down is introduced as a person who is uncertain about himself. He is not sure the letter to be read or not, or he can or cannot. After reading the poem up to now, the reader should start sympathizing about this character who is over brimmed with social and mental disorders. The disorderly rhyming pattern may suggest that fact.  

He eyed it this way, eyed it that,
Then he stuck it in his hat
His auntie wrote, ‘Dearest boy,
All you do is to annoy:

Wearing flannels when it’s hot,
Going naked when it’s not!
You must behave as others do
If they’re to have a respect for you!”

Final two stanzas summarize the poem about the boy and social expectations. People expect others to behave according to social norms. If not, they are annoyed about the behaviors which are against the social order. If someone constantly violate them, people laugh at them calling them lunatics. Therefore, the poet may urge to impart the message of sympathizing about the people who behave differently against social norms.

Topic – reminds of something disorderly, unconventional or absurd
Rhyme scheme- 2nd and 7thstanza – ABAB and others AABB
Diction – simple, narrative
Tone- humorous /ironic?
Theme- How society consider one as a misfit, if stands out of social norms and expectations.

The character Upside Down is both funny and pathetic; therefore, his situation should evoke not only laughter but also sympathy, because though he is a social misfit, he cannot help himself. In such kind of a situation what would be the response of the society? That leaves an insight for the reader not to take the poem as a humorous poem as it carries a note of social criticism. 

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  1. very useful blog for student like us

  2. can't we say that Upside Down is an individualist?

    1. Yes, that's true, there are some people in the society who stand out from others. If it goes against social conventions, society sees that as something unacceptable or absurd. Upside down seems have no worry about that but behaves as himself. We should all respect that individualism, which most of the time has been the key to change the world.

  3. how the poet evokes humour through this poem?

    1. Through the actions of upside down. However the real answer too may be an upside down one.

  4. Thank you so much for this initiative. This blog is really helpful for the literature students. Hats off to your effort sir. Wishing you strength to come up with more amazing ideas.!

    1. Thank you for your wonderful comment. Happy to see you find it useful.

  5. what is the only thing upside down did seriouly?

    1. Well, it is not necessary to look at such people in a serious way. I mean, they see at the world in a different point of view. So, the best thing is trying to understand them and help them as we can. Because they are too a part of our society. That must be the purpose of writing this poem, isn't that so?

  6. What type of language and tone speaker used in last two lines of final stanza? ?

  7. Sir can you enter the poetic techniques of this Upside down poem seperately

    1. We will consider about this, thanks for informing.

  8. sr can you tell . what is the incident of Up side Down

    1. Read this post: