My lids grew heavy. So I slept. Slender memory, stay with me. Once again Lee takes us into the landscape of memory, this time by invoking it directly. Stanza two gives us an image to hold onto in a poem that will be equally as much about language as it is about things. Lee remembers,. I was cold once. So my father took off his blue sweater. He wrapped me in it, and I never gave it back. Flamboyant blue in daylight, poor blue by daylight, It is black in the folds.
This is where the mnemonic come in. Lee reflects,. A serious man who devised complex systems of numbers and rhymes to aid him in remembering, a man who forgot nothing, my father would be ashamed of me. For instance: God was lonely. So he made me. My father loved me. So he spanked me.
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It hurt him to do so. He did it daily. In fact, Lee must accept paradox, he must live in two worlds, one of loss and one of revelation:. The earth is flat. The earth is round. All things reveal themselves to men only gradually. Memory is sweet. But the final image Lee returns to his mnemonic, the things of our world which carry all the meaning.
This is another thing that poetry does for us all: it carries the meaning of our beautiful, paradoxical, rotten pear world of sweetness that is ultimately a gift from our Father. Lee, Li-Young, Rose. Rochester, NY: Boa Editions, Your email address will not be published.
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This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. In this poem, memory and landscape fuse in the next stanza: It was my father I saw this morning waving to me from the trees. The final stanza further complicates this landscape of memory: White rice steaming, almost done. This is what poetry does for us all. Lee remembers, I was cold once.
Lee reflects, A serious man who devised complex systems of numbers and rhymes to aid him in remembering, a man who forgot nothing, my father would be ashamed of me. In fact, Lee must accept paradox, he must live in two worlds, one of loss and one of revelation: The earth is flat. Readers are left with the sense that Lee will continue to tell stories about his father, and in that telling continue to grapple with how he fits into that story. It is a love that continues after death, and one which needs to be understood in relation to death. Lee suggests in this poem that the person who dies lives on not only in the memory of those left behind but also in their everyday lives.
Symbolically, and in effect, the son becomes the father whom the son is mourning. Death is part of a cycle from which life begins. The peaches themselves signify both sweetness and responsibility, the duty a son has to follow in the footsteps of his father, carrying on his life as it were, while also forging his own. It is the difficulty of doing both at once to which this poems speaks. Abstractions are ideas, and are rooted in the intellect. Concrete images are things which can be seen: blue hair, spilled milk, etc.
Lee begins his poems by making connections among abstractions such as wisdom, sadness, joy, gravity, and sweetness. He then uses concrete imagery such as peaches to illustrate these connections. The connections themselves are made by way of metaphor. Metaphors make comparisons between unlike things, underscoring their similarities. Lee employs enjambment along with a mixture of short and long lines to visually suggest the ways in which memory and emotion interact, how one thing or idea reminds the speaker of something else, and so on. Enjambment is another.
Changing Places in the Fire by Li-Young Lee | Poetry Magazine
The use of alternating long and short lines creates a kind of stop and start rhythm for the poem, causing readers to stop and try to see what Lee is describing. The run-on lines compel readers to continue reading, while the line length often slow readers down. Lee has always been obsessed with walking, the idea of steps and the image of feet. After escaping from Indonesia in , the Lees journeyed through various parts of Asia, including Hong Kong , Macau, and Japan, before coming to the United States in My father put down our suitcase, untied my shoes, and rubbed my feet, one at a time with such deep turns of his wrist.
I heard the water in him through my soles. Since then I have listened for him in my steps, And have not found him…. And water denied him days at a time, administered in a prison cell in Indonesia, ruined his kidneys, and changed the way he lay or sat or knelt or got up to walk the whole way down the stairs.
Richard Lee would speak to people as they went about their daily chores on the banks of the Solo River, and the Indonesian War Administration accused him of being a spy and charged him with sedition. Sukarno himself was ousted from power in by General Suharto, an anti-communist who assumed the Indonesian presidency in after helping to quell an uprising. In the s a new male image had emerged: the sensitive male, a result, Bly claims, of the social and cultural ascendancy of women.
But for society at large, at least in the West, the traditional male who confidently and often aggressively asserts his desires remains the model after which most men shape themselves. Boys are now raised by women, who cannot provide a model for male behavior. It is a real father, an extraordinary and heroic figure. A widely published poet, fiction writer, and critic, Semansky teaches literature and writing at Portland Community College. A physician, founder of an Indonesian university, and Presbyterian minister, Richard K.
Into the idea of sweetness, Lee injects the bittersweetness of nostalgia.
His poem is a recipe for the lingering grief he still feels. In the next lines, however, readers learn that Lee is being metaphoric:. Song, conventionally associated with celebration, can have gravity if it is a lament or dirge. The weight of wisdom might be the responsibility to act or that such knowledge brings with it. Sadness is the easiest of these terms to understand in terms of weight, as feelings of sadness are often associated with slowness and heaviness.
How is joy a gravity, though? These first lines are reflective. They ask readers to think, rather than feel, to participate in ruminating about abstractions with the writer. The next stanza develops this thinking using imagery:. The images are a tool for the speaker, allowing him to show readers his thoughts rather than tell them. Showing rather than telling has more emotional impact because images are more connected to our bodies than are abstract ideas.
“Eating Alone” by Li-Young Lee
When readers can see, feel, or hear something being described, their emotions are set to work and they become more involved with the text. The voice is instructive, as if providing directions on the process of making something. Memories are often stirred by the senses. Smells, taste, touch, sounds, sights often unlock memories of events buried deep in our minds.
This poem has a similar trajectory, as it moves from the image, the sensation of holding a peach and imagining its sweetness, to how it, though ripe, is off the branch and dead. In this case, the memory itself is also a sensual one. This detail is important for the poem because the line between the past and the present is so fluid, past events evoking the present just as the present evokes the past.
The oscillation between the two creates a kind of static moment, embodied in an image, which stands for the weight of sweetness itself. Lee finishes his anecdote:. The transmission of peaches from father to son underscores the bond between the two. If we understand peaches as a symbolic image for sweetness, and sweetness as embodying song, wisdom, sadness, and joy, we can read the gesture as one of the father passing on instructions for how to live, how to be in the world, to his son, who eagerly accepts them.
Readers are instructed once again to. In this case the father is moving into the future, towards death, as the boy is weighed down by all he has been given by his father. That manifold quality of intention and consciousness: that feels to me like universe. Indeed loss, for Lee, is at the center of the universe. So where is ground? What is materiality? Lee considers the mind the ground upon which all humans walk. And for Lee, whose poems are laced with images of feet and walking, walking implies time.
But it is an Eastern concept of time for Lee, one which turns the past and the future on their respective heads. The Chinese word for the day after tomorrow is hou, meaning behind, and the word denoting the day before yesterday is actually chien, meaning in front of. So, you see … that to a Chinese mind, tomorrow, the future, is behind me, while the past lies in front of me.
For the speaker, the future is also behind him, in the image of his father, whom he runs toward, even as his father moves ahead into death. Sweetness, surely, is relief from the bitter pains of life. It should surely be light to carry; it should be one of the rewards of the great American Dream.
Sweetness here has its own gravitas, and as an active ingredient in the well-lived life, it conveys a solemnity we more commonly associate with the archetypal themes of poets—love, death, pain, renewal, or lack of renewal. Once Lee says that sweetness too, is heavy, ponderous, and a burden to carry, it seems obvious, and we believe we knew it all along. The first turn of the poem is simple and direct: from the abstraction, sweetness, comes the illustration, the peach. Indeed, throughout Rose, Lee likes to illustrate his thoughts with simple objects of conventional beauty—the persimmon, blossoms, irises, hair.
His twist is to show the conventional image of beauty revealing an unconventional thought process. Some biographical information about the poet and his father may help illuminate the relationship that the poem allows us to glimpse. He also was strict and stern, and demanded that his children succeed by the terms he set for them: that they learn seven languages, for example. Notice that Lee does not have the father or the son speak, nor does he describe a facial expression, and it is by this, perhaps, that he maintains a personal yet impersonal touch.
The pain of the sweetness of the relationship, like the pain of the peach severed from the branch, is that the father will inevitably recede from this son, do what the son will. Thus the poem points to mortality. Or does he recede because time pulls him away, as it simultaneously holds fast to the son, dragging at his feet and keeping him, emotionally, fixed in this scene? The poem leaves these questions unresolved; perhaps they are not resolvable for the poet, as they are not resolvable for many of us.
If the peach is to come into existence and be sweet, it must also fall from the bough and create rupture and pain. The very act of loving parents means accepting the inevitable pain of their loss when they die. Here is a poet who deftly and delicately shows us how fleeting and even provisional tenderness is. America has given us many descriptions of the dysfunctional family, as is only right as we work to examine, assess, and heal our wounds.
Lee reminds us that sweet relationships deserve as close attention. Moore teaches writing at Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York, and is a poet whose work appears in anthologies and literary journals. It is a poem about a particular memory, and also the idea of memory. The principal words are sent out and then return, bringing new meaning with them—sweetness, weight, peaches, father and son.
The peaches symbolize sweetness—the taste of the fruit and the semi-sweet memory the speaker has of picking peaches with his father. Weight is seriousness, gravity, a force of attraction. There is the weight of memory itself, the specific memory of the father, and the weight of the father himself—all seen in a peach:.