A most illustrative, elegant example is "The River." The song tells of the young narrator's life in a town by a river where "they bring you up to do what your daddy done"; the hopes he shares with his high school sweetheart, Mary; the idyllic days of youth spent with her by the river. They continue to hope even after they are forced to grow up too quickly. Mary becomes pregnant, but they still go down to the river. But soon, the hardships of life in the face of poverty means that "Now all them things that seemed so important/ Well mister they vanished right into the air/ Now I just act like I don't remember/ and Mary acts like she don't care." The song ends with a last drive down to the river, though it, like the narrator's dreams, has run dry. The very obviousness of the river's symbolism is what makes it so brilliant.
A larger implication can always be taken away from the short narrative contained in a Springsteen song. The listener can feel all of the frustration and restlessness felt by the man in "Hungry Heart," who drives to a bar where he met his sweetheart, this time to leave her; or the depressing heaviness of spirit in "Factory," which tells the story of a boy seeing his father going to work in the morning and returning at night.
To capture in just a three or four minute song, or in twenty or thirty lines of words, an understanding and a sympathy from the audience is poetry indeed. But poetry exclusively of the blue-collared laborer it is not. Who hasn't felt the hefty dread of going to work in the morning, and coming home bone-weary at night? Who has not wished for escape from the duties of life we have created for ourselves?
If anyone is our national poet, it is Springsteen. Philip Levine may be brilliant, but there's a reason more people remember the words to "Jungleland" than those in "Coming Close."