Posts Tagged ‘analysis’

“Blackberries” by Yusef Komunyakaa



 “They left my hands like a printer’s
Or thief’s before a police blotter
& pulled me into early morning’s
Terrestrial sweetness, so thick
The damp ground was consecrated
Where they fell among a garland of thorns.

Although I could smell old lime-covered
History, at ten I’d still hold out my hands
& berries fell into them. Eating from one
& filling a half gallon with the other,
I ate the mythology & dreamt
Of pies & cobbler, almost

Needful as forgiveness. My bird dog Spot
Eyed blue jays & thrashers. The mud frogs
In rich blackness, hid from daylight.
An hour later, beside City Limits Road
I balanced a gleaming can in each hand,
Limboed between worlds, repeating one dollar.

The big blue car made me sweat.
Wintertime crawled out of the windows.
When I leaned closer I saw the boy
& girl my age, in the wide back seat
Smirking, & it was then I remembered my fingers
Burning with thorns among berries too ripe to touch.”

-Yusef Komunyakaa

This poem tells the story of a boy out picking blackberries in a thicket in the woods. The juice leaves his hands stained from the juicy berries as they dripped onto the ground. He eats some and collects others, daydreaming and thinking about mythology and history. His dog spot is with him and keeps eyeing the birds. A car passes him when he nears the road and the two children smirking at him from the back seat bring him back down to earth.

One of the really interesting threads in this poem is the continueing feeling of guilt from the author. In the beginning the dark juice of the berries on his hands makes him think of a thief being handprinted by the police. This is just the beginning of the feeling of guilt. Later on the poem, Komunyakaa references the need for forgiveness. Even the frogs are hiding from daylight in the dark of the mud. When the car pulls up, he starts sweating, often a sign of nervousness or guilt about something. It is after this occurance that he snaps out of his daydream and once again feels the sting of the prickers and notices the juice on his hands.

This idea is juxtaposed to another, more innocent thread with allusions to the bible. In the first stanza, the berries fall off the branches into a “garland of thorns”, a clear allusion to the crown of the thorns Jesus wore at the time of his crucifixion. The berries also consecrate the ground, making it holy. The berries can also be an symbol for the garden of Eden and the innocence represented by the fruit within it. Because Komunyakaa was only ten, he was still innocent enough that the pure fruit would fall of the branches for him; he did not need to pick by force.

When these two themes are put together, they paint a picture of the struggle of the racial tension that was going on in the country at the time of Komunyakaa’s childhood. Komunyakaa could “smell the lime-covered history”, or history that has already gone by (lime used to be sprinkled on graves to aid the breakdown of corpses), and has a sense of what has gone on, but he still has enough innocence that the berries will simply fall into his hands.  Some he eats, innocently, and dreams of grander things, while at the same time, he works on filling up a tin to take home later and make pies and cobbler. This illustrates the controversy that is going on as Komunyakaa balances on the brink between innocence and growing up and realizing the full impacts of racism. The same idea is carried on further. The dog, a sensible, domesticated pet, which most of the time is considered property, eyes the birds which are wild, free, and lofty above him. The mud frogs, which are not exactly the most glamorous animals in the world hide in the “blackness” from the daylight.

The final paragraph finally applies the idea to Komunyakaa. He is lost in his own world with his can gleaming like a trophy full of blackberries. When he sees the boy and the girl watching him coldly (“wintertime crawled out the windows”), from the comfortable, clean, padded seats as they are driven around, he realizes how dirty he is from picking berries. Their smirk shocks him out of his daydreams, and the thorns become a negative object, burning his fingers, just like the crown of thorns, and the realization that his hands are so dirty and dark once again physically mark him as different from the children in the car.


“As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Gerald Manley Hopkins


“As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

      As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

      Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

      Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

      Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.


   I say more: the just man justices;

    Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

    Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

    To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

-Gerald Manley Hopkins

This poem starts out describing the kingfisher and the dragon flies as they are on fire. Stones thrown into a well ring out like bells or stringed instruments. Every person does exactly the same thing and generally only focuses on their own welfare. Hopkins, however, believes that people should try to do more than just this. They should try and create peace and justice between others and act as God would want him to. Man should try to be more like Christ in his actions.

Hopkins is definately asserting that men in general are of a lower standing than they have the potential to be. Instinctually, man is trained to look out for himself and make sure that he as an individual, survives to procreate and continue the species. However, Christianity tells us otherwise. It teaches that everyone should look out for each other in order to create a better, more cohesive society. God sends his son, Jesus, down to Earth to try and spread this message and provide an example for how humans should act. It is this which Hopkins references in his second stanza.

Another very interesting note about this poem is the built in rhythm. The word choice and the position of the words give the whole poem a very lilting and sing-song feeling.  This seems to be a very effective technique; it uses aural cues in order to help create better mental images. The reader can almost hear how it appears.

“Ariel” by Sylvia Plath



“Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.

God’s lioness,
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees!–The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

Berries cast dark

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Something else

Hauls me through air—-
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

Godiva, I unpeel—-
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child’s cry

Melts in the wall.
And I
Am the arrow,

The dew that flies,
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.”

-Sylvia Plath

The first line of the poem is the inhalation, the calm before the storm. Everything is still for a moment before the world is full of mountains and distances. The next three stanzas describe the narrator (Plath) riding her horse named Ariel through blackberry brambles. At stanza six, something else pulls her from the horse and peels her from what she was, the strictness of her flesh form disappearing. She leaves behind wheat, sea, and a child’s cry, and flies like an arrow in to the dawn.

The first subject worth examining is the name Ariel. Although Ariel was the name of Plath’s horse, there are many other connotations that go along with the title. Ariel is also and angel knows as the “lion of God”, which explains the line “God’s lioness”. Ariel is also known as the angel of healing and new beginnings. Although the movie was not made until many years later, the Disney adaption of Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid named the little mermaid Ariel.

Although this poem was not based on the movie, it is entirely possible the name choice in the movie was based on this poem. In the real Hans Christian Anderson version, the little mermaid eventually gives her own life so that she may have an eternal soul and turns into sea foam, signifying that all of her earthly sins had been forgiven and that she was allowed to have a new start. Perhaps it was a writer for disney that read this poem and pulled the name.

Another interesting section is the stanza that refers to the black berries and the subsequent stanza. The brambles have sharp prickers that reach out to try and grab her and keep her there… but what does the “blood” stand for? At one point Plath did have a miscarriage and this could be a metaphor for it. This “blood” could actually be blackberry juice from “crushed fruit”, which would symbolize a pregnancy gone wrong. The shadows follow her like haunting memories.

From there on symbolizes rebirth. She goes from the free feeling of riding her horse to a whole new level of freedom as she is swept up and away, away from the dark blood. The color white is a symbol of being pure and renewed, free of anything and everything, as Lady Godiva freed herself from the societal expectation of being clothed.

The next section could actually refer to child’s birth. The wheat refers to fertility and then the ocean birth. There is the crying of a child, but she ignores it. Instead she frees herself from everything, even the duties of a mother, and lets herself loose. The very end can be taken two different ways. She could be referring to committing suicide, or reaching a state of higher awareness, depending on how the reader chooses to interpret.

from “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman


“The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab
and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

-Walt Whitman

The poem starts with a hawk swooping down at the narrator because of the narrator’s talking and waiting around. Like the bird, the narrator is not tamed. He is coaxed away by the end of the day and departs in the air, shedding his flesh. he gives himself over to the dirt. Even though the reader does not know him, he will be good for the reader anyway. Even if the reader cannot find the author, the reader is encouraged to keep searching, he will find the author somewhere.

The clear metaphor of this poem is death. The day waits for his end and flings his likeness behind, in memories, behind him like a shadow that lasts after death. He departs the earth and the sun keeps on moving along as his soul leaves his body. What’s left becomes part of the earth and in turn the grass which begins at the bottom of the food chain and slowly moves up through the chain until it becomes sustanance for other human beings.

The idea of the shadow and the sustanance can actually be combined and the situation can be seen in a whole different way. Perhaps Whitman means that after he dies, he will not only live on in the carbon cycle, but it the fact that his poetry will persevere and live far longer than his mortal body will. This applied to the last stanza would have the message come across as even if you don’t understand what Whitman has written at first, keep trying and eventually you will meet him somewhere and understand it.

“Alone, Looking for Blossoms Along the River” by Tu Fu


Alone, Looking for Blossoms Along the River

“The sorrow of riverside blossoms inexplicable,
And nowhere to complain — I’ve gone half crazy.
I look up our southern neighbor. But my friend in wine
Gone ten days drinking. I find only an empty bed.

A thick frenzy of blossoms shrouding the riverside,
I stroll, listing dangerously, in full fear of spring.
Poems, wine — even this profusely driven, I endure.
Arrangements for this old, white-haired man can wait.

A deep river, two or three houses in bamboo quiet,
And such goings on: red blossoms glaring with white!
Among spring’s vociferous glories, I too have my place:
With a lovely wine, bidding life’s affairs bon voyage.

Looking east to Shao, its smoke filled with blossoms,
I admire that stately Po-hua wineshop even more.
To empty golden wine cups, calling such beautiful
Dancing girls to embroidered mats — who could bear it?

East of the river, before Abbot Huang’s grave,
Spring is a frail splendor among gentle breezes.
In this crush of peach blossoms opening ownerless,
Shall I treasure light reds, or treasure them dark?

At Madame Huang’s house, blossoms fill the paths:
Thousands, tens of thousands haul the branches down.
And butterflies linger playfully — an unbroken
Dance floating to songs orioles sing at their ease.

I don’t so love blossoms I want to die. I’m afraid,
Once they are gone, of old age still more impetuous.
And they scatter gladly, by the branchful. Let’s talk
Things over, little buds —open delicately, sparingly.”

-Tu Fu

This poem starts out following the narrator, Tu Fu, as he observes the blossoms along the side of a river. He tries to visit his southern neighbor, but the neighbor is gone.The blossoms skew his view of the river. He knows that arrangements for an old man can wait. The river is deep with a few houses in the bamboo and surrounded by red and white blossoms. He admires a wine shop and wishes he was drinking with beautiful girls. Before Abbot Huang’s grave, spring seems so frail. He doesn’t know whether he likes the light red or dark red blossoms better. At Madam Huang’s house there are thousands of blossoms with butterflies and orioles. Tu Fu doesn’t love the blossoms so much because he knows they need to die, but is still afraid of what happens after they’re gone. He wants them to instead take their time opening.

One of the things that is very difficult in this poem is the lack of clarity. Although some may say that poetry both by Tu Fu and other poets from this era in this style is very precise and clean, the lack of proper grammar leaves many different interpretations open. This definately creates a barrier in understanding the author’s meaning. For instance, it took a very long time for me to decide on a meaning for the line, “I don’t so love blossoms I want to die. I’m afraid, once they are gone, of old age still more impetuous”. The first sentence can mean several different things if punctuation is changed just slightly. He could mean that he doesn’t love blossoms and that he wants to die, or he could mean he doesn’t love the flowers which he wants to die. It definately can change interpretations significantly.

I do, however, think that Tu Fu has identified a very old, central concern of humanity: mortality. He juxtaposes the death of a close friend with the delicate blooms of spring. Everything is so shrouded between the alcohol that keeps coming up and the constant wave of blossoms blowing through the air; you can hardly see where you’re walking. All of this fogginess makes it less easy to see where you are going, which is generally better than thinking about death all the time. This is illustrated when he puts of “making arrangements for the white haired man”, a phrase generally associated with arranging for a funeral and burial. Things seem to take up much more importance than they do in the blur of wine and blooms. Instead of worrying about this arrangement the narrator worries about finding more wine and women, which color blossom he likes better, and listening to birds singing. This distracts him from his fear at the rate the blossoms are opening and then dying off, tying back in with his fear of how fast life is moving and how inevitable the passage of time is.

“War is Kind” by Stephen Crane


Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.
Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them,
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom —
A field where a thousand corpses lie.
Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.
Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

To the maiden
The sea was blue meadow,
Alive with little froth-people
To the sailor, wrecked,
The sea was dead grey walls
Superlative in vacancy,
Upon which nevertheless at fateful time
Was written
The grim hatred of nature.

There was a man with tongue of wood
Who essayed to sing,
And in truth it was lamentable.
But there was one who heard
The clip-clapper of this tongue of wood
And knew what the man
Wished to sing,
And with that the singer was content.

A man said to the universe:
“Sir I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

The first section of this poem begins by telling a maiden not to weep over her lover dying because war is kind. The drums book and the men prepare for battle, ruled by the battle-god. A babe is told not to weep for his dead father in the trenches for war is kind. The second stanza has the flag flying over the regiment and talks about how great war really is. A mother is told not to weep for her dead son because war is kind.

One oddity is the order of the maiden, the babe, and the mother. Why are they put in this order? They are not chronological in any way. The first two are chonological in terms of the relationship of the male to the female figure being told not to weep. The lover goes with the maiden and the father with the babe, two relationships chronologically in order.

Another interesting difference of these two male figures with the male in the second stanza is the desription of how the man dies. It is designated how the first two die, but there is no mention of the son’s actual death, just the aftermath and his “bright splendid shroud”. The son is not painted having a forward moving life to come home to- a woman to marry or a child to rear, but only his mother.

Another way to look at the tone would  be to take a more literal approach which can be done by looking at the deaths of the two soldiers in the first stanza. The lover throws his hands up to the sky in defeat. The father “tumbles in the yellow trenches, rages at his breast, gulps, and dies”. These are both deaths of cowards. The lover gives in in the end and throws up his hands, a sign of surrender. The father dies hiding in the trenches which are yellow, a color symbolic of being a coward. Perhaps Crane is intonating that war rids the world of foolish people whose sole purpose is to “drill and die”.  But what of the son? What is his sin? If examine din the lense of Plato’s Republic, it becomes apparent that just as civilization degredes as time goes on, so does its citizens. Each change in governent is brought about by a son of a man from the next highest level. Following this patter, shouldn’t the son of any man sucha s those presented in the first stanza be just as bad, if not worse than his father?

One of the most obvious changes is the difference in tone between the first and second stanzas. Slthough they are both sarcastic, the first is a bit darke rand more seroius in tis word usage with terms such as “wild”, “affrighted”, “hoarse”, “thirst”, “booming”, and “raged”. Although Crane says that war is kind and sets the soldiers “thirsting” for battle, the vocabulary sets an underlying tone of the realities of war. The sarcasm becomes more biting in the second as the word choices become much more gradiose and picturesque, such as “swift blazing”, “eagle”, “red and gold”, “virtue”, “excellence”,  and “bright splendid”. This is the more commercialized painting of war and the side more utilized to fuel support. This is the view of war seen as “liberating” and “noble”- generally the type of view the government uses to rally support. To be involved in a war feels neither liberating a noble once you’re there, but those unable to see it may be coerced to believe it.

This idea ties in with part three. Part three paints two very juxtaposed visions of the sea. The maiden sees it as a blue, lively meadow full of “froth-people”. The sailor views it as dead, gray walls, completely vacant of company and life. This reflects the exact same point. The sailor, who is emerged in his work and job, is alone with it long enough to discover the truth passed what people generally romanticize. The maiden, on the other hand, is detached enough to take the full brunt of the idealism. She loves nature and the spirit of the sea because she can go hide away nice and safe when the ocean rears its ugly head. The sailer, on the other hrarnd, must brave it all the time.

Part sixteen is about a man with a wooden tongue who tries to sing, but it sounds pathetic. However, another man understands what the other is trying to sing, and the man with the wooden tongue is content. This poem is about finding the one who shares the same view as you and is able to understand your emotions and ideas even passed your outer disabilities and limitaitons like a wooden tongue. Life is all about finding someone who understands the song of a man with a wooden tongue or someone who gets why the ocean is like gray walls. That is what makes human communication essential, the need to not feel so completely alone, to pass on the struggles and realities of war and life on a deeper level than is generally betrayed.

The last selection I looked at, section twenty one, is the final portrait of the human relationship with society and the world around it. A man tells the universe that he exists, but the universe, who is male, does not seem to feel at all concerned or obligued to do anything about it. This is the quiet reminder at the end of how infinitely small humans are in the cope of things. Even though a person can find company within society, his real father, the universe, really wants nothing to do with him. The male voice of the universe could imply either a father role or a connection to the male figure in the first section of the poem. But is the universe parallel to one of the figures or the war god? The god role seems to make sense, creating a picture of a violent, uncaring god who is hungry for war and does not care so miuch of the fate of the individuals. Although following the trend of two different views of everything perhaps the male figures were actually uncaring cowards two

“Idea of Order at Key West” by Wallace Stevens

girl on beach

"She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

The sea was not a mask.  No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard.
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this?  we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.

If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone.  But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.
It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang.  And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker.  Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh!  Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds."

The poem, “Idea of Order at Key West” by Wallace Stevens is about a man in Key West listening to a girl singing on the beach and noticing the balance of her voice and the world around her. He wonders what the balance is of things; who is the maker and who is simply the reverberation? When the girl stops singing, Stevens continues to examine what happens to the order.

Most of the comparisons are ordered in trifectas. For instance in the first stanza the ocean mimicked the girl’s song, making its own cry and also causing a constant cry. In the second stanza the girl hears something and sings it. THis singing “stirred the grinding water and gasping wind”. She made the song and the sea was only the place in which she sang it, but there is still the presence of something larger than the sea, the sky, and the voice. The first level always seems to be the most literal and rudimentary, such as the literal presence of the ocean. The girl seems to be the middle level, taking in things from the lower level and combining them to feed the highest level: a combination of human production and a higher power, be it God or science.

The girl is made to be the glue between the lowest level and the highest level. Her voice makes the “sky acustest at its vanishing”, sharpening the line between the sea and sky (or heaven). She is the “single artificer”, or creator, of what’s around her, adopting the sea as her own, however, she has no world except for the one she creates. She is in the middle ground: on an island, a thin sliver of land between the sea and the sky. She is also on Key West, the farthest point south in the US, on the border, the tip of land and sea.

The last two stanzas are after the girl  has stopped singing. The narrator wants to know how it is possible, when it took the girl’s voice to master the ocean, it took only lights to master the night, arranging it into “emblazoned zones”. This illustrates that even though it may not take too much effort to sing a song that drowns out the sound of the ocean or to light a lantern to illuminate the night, there is still that higher elvel which can override both, the un-masterable mystery that cannot be explained, as mentioned in the last stanza.

The maker has such a rage to find order between levels. It has always been the human tendency to try and stitch together the worldy and the divine and put things in order and more understandable, such as in writing and analyzing poetry. Everything must have an order and a meaning to somehow relate to life, it gets rather crazy. The lines between heaven and earth will always be “ghostly demarcations”, hazy lines, filled with only the jammering of humanity trying to find way to talk sense into things that are unexplainable.