‘‘The Peace of Wild Things’’ begins with the poet, writing in first person, describing what he likes to do when his mind becomes agitated and he needs to calm down. He presents himself as a man who is concerned about the state of the world. He appears to have no hope that the condition of the world will improve, although he offers no details about his worries. Perhaps he has in mind war, poverty, and injustice, all the things that plague humanity and seem to continue despite the best efforts of well-intentioned people to end them. In line 2, the poet makes it clear how deep this worry in his mind is, since he will wake up at night if there is even the slightest of sounds and the worry will start again. In line 3 it becomes apparent that he fears for the future, not only for himself but also for his children. Perhaps he harbors the fear that there may be some cataclysm or other devastating event that would radically change human . . . Read More
The poem ‘‘Oranges’’ by Gary Soto is frequently included in anthologies of literature as a sole example of Soto’s writing. Readers praise it, finding it to be pleasant and unchallenging. The assumption that this poem is about a charming courtship between innocent children may be touching, but it does not really respond to the facts given in the poem. ‘‘Oranges’’ does reaffirm the basic goodness of life, but its view of young love finding its way is anything but sweet.
The poem tells readers nothing about its narrator at the start except that he is telling about a time when he was twelve years old. In the story, the boy goes to a girl’s house one December morning to walk with her. The fact that it is just a walk with her, nothing more, is quaint enough without it being something he has never had a chance to do before, and readers are naturally inclined to root for the innocent, nonthreatening child. Though it may be his first romantic experience, the . . . Read More
Mexican Immigration in California
Soto’s poetry is often autobiographical, as is the case with ‘‘Oranges.’’ Soto was twelve—the age of the boy in this poem—in 1964. He grew up in a Mexican American family in Fresno, California, a city that drew many Mexican immigrants who came to the United States looking for jobs in the agricultural fields of the surrounding San Joaquin Valley. Field work has always been difficult physical labor, often involving stooping to the ground to harvest low-growing fruits and vegetables such as lettuce, artichoke, or strawberries. It is the physical labor involved in harvesting produce in the sun that has traditionally made the work unappealing for Americans who are able to find jobs that offer more money for less work. Workers from Mexico, which has had a more subdued economy, have crossed over to the United States for decades into border states like California, Texas, and New Mexico, to accept salaries . . . Read More
Narrative Verse and Free Verse
‘‘Oranges’’ is an example of a narrative poem, or one that tells a story. Narrative verse is traditionally considered to be one of the four basic literary modes of poetry, along with lyric, dramatic, and didactic poetry. Narrative poems include the oldest poems known to history: epics such as the Iliad of Homer (circa eighth or ninth century BCE) and the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, which is dated to the seventh century BCE. Geoffrey Chaucer’s fourteenth-century story The Canterbury Tales is a collection of interrelated narrative poems tied together to make one overall story. Many older narrative poems are believed to be stories that were passed from one person to another, from generation to generation for hundreds of years before finally being written down.
As with most narratives, Soto’s poem is more concerned with the story that it is telling than with using a particular poetic style . . . Read More
Coming of Age
‘‘Oranges’’ is the story of a twelve-year-old boy who is crossing an emotional threshold and entering into a new period of his life, facing things that he has never encountered before. This is made clear in the first few words of the poem. The fact that he has never walked with a girl until the events related here indicates to readers that they are about to witness something that will change his life. In doing something for the first time ever, especially in entering into his first adult relationship, the boy is gaining some aspect of maturity.
A literary work about a young person who is entering into a phase of adulthood that he or she has never experienced before is referred to as a coming-of-age story. Such tales often end with the protagonist losing his or her idealism, though as ‘‘Oranges’’ shows, this is not always the case. In this poem, the narrator does pass over from being inexperienced with . . . Read More
‘‘Oranges’’ begins with a narrator looking back at his childhood. He remembers a particular experience of walking side by side with a girl. All that readers know about the two characters in this poem is that he is twelve years old at the time of its events, and that she is presumably twelve or near that. When the poem begins, the narrator is alone, having not reached the girl’s house yet.
In the third and fourth lines, the speaker introduces the oranges that are referred to in the title of the poem. There are two of them, and the boy is on his way to pick up his date, so readers might infer that he means to share the oranges with the girl. They are not represented here as something positive, though, but rather as a burden. In addition, he allows his focus to stray from the poem’s main situation, his first experience with a girl, and instead makes a point of dwelling on the cold weather.
Lines 5 through 7 . . . Read More
Modern readers of Anne Finch’s work take a particular interest in ‘‘A Nocturnal Reverie’’ with regard to its categorization. With the benefit of significant historical and literary hindsight, some scholars regard the poem as an example of the Augustan literature that was so popular in England at the time the poem was written (1713). But others see in the poem glimpses of one of the most influential literary movements to come— romanticism.
From a chronological standpoint, ‘‘A Nocturnal Reverie’’ seems best positioned among Augustan literature. This would place Finch alongside writers such as Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and Jonathan Swift, who are considered great British writers and some of the best satirists ever published. But Augustan literature was not merely biting wit and lengthy verse and prose. Augustan literature paid homage to the Roman Augustan Age, in which language was exalted and treated carefully. Education and . . . Read More
‘‘A Nocturnal Reverie’’ is a fifty-line poem describing an inviting nighttime scene and the speaker’s disappointment when dawn brings it to an end, forcing her back to the real world. It is written in iambic pentameter, a meter that consists of five feet (or units), each containing an unstressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. Moreover, it is written in heroic couplets—two lines of rhyming verse in iambic pentameter, usually self-contained so that the meaning of the two lines is complete without relying on lines before or after them.
The poem’s opening phrase is repeated three times over the course of the poem, and originates in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. It becomes a sort of refrain that pulls the reader through the poem. The speaker describes a night in which all harsh winds are far away, and the gentle breeze of Zephyr, Greek god of the west wind, is soothing. The other winds . . . Read More
Poetry offers readers a multifaceted opportunity to experience the world in a different way. Poetry can create beauty. It can also be witty and entertaining, sometimes even comedic. But perhaps poetry’s most important functions are to educate readers about injustice and to rouse readers to actions that can change the world. On occasion, poetry illuminates what is hidden, ignored, or just so distasteful that it is buried in the reader’s unconscious mind. Throughout much of the twentieth century, racism was one of those topics that too few people discussed and that far too many people tolerated. Poetry is one tool that can lead to discussions about racism, and perhaps, to change. In his poetry, Langston Hughes is able to depict reality in such a way that readers emerge from their reading of his poetry with knowledge about a world they may not have directly experienced in their lives.
A quick and superficial reading of Hughes’s ‘‘I, Too’’ leaves readers with the . . . Read More
The ‘‘New Negro’’ and the Harlem Renaissance
In March 1925, Howard University professor, Alain Locke coined the term ‘‘The New Negro’’ for a special issue of Survey Graphic that emphasized and celebrated the diversity of black life in the United States. Of particular interest to Locke were the many examples of black art, literature, and intellectual thought that heralded a new life for black people and communities. Locke thought that this creative expression was an essential component of a progressive community in which black Americans contributed their talents and would then be recognized as contributing to the formation of one nation. Locke envisioned the ‘‘new Negro’’ as representative of greater self-respect and self-reliance. The new Negro was a black American who contributed to his social and cultural community and for Locke the center of this change was in Harlem.
The influx of southern black Americans . . . Read More