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Symbolism and Imagery in the Poems of Gary Soto and William Stafford

Symbolism and Imagery in the Poems of Gary Soto and William Stafford

Literary Response Journal Assignment

Behind Grandma’s House by Gary Soto, Monday July 1, 2013Words I did not knowBehind Grandma’s House is a simple poem with simple common words. Perhaps it is because it is written from a child’s point of view whose words and thoughts would be simple. However, one word that I did not know its meaning was ‘Bryl-Creem’, it refers to a hair gel that men use to style and condition their hair.

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Words/Phrases that interest meThe words used in line one, ‘At ten I wanted fame’ and in line eighteen, ‘until grandma came to the alley’ captured my interest. This brings into mind a little boy and a grandmother; grandmothers do love their grandchildren and protect them at all costs. As such, I did not expect grandma to reprove the boy. I anticipated the boy’s escape from punishment for his mischief. When I was a child, I would run away with faults as long as my grandmother was in the picture. She would defend and protect me even when I was wrong.

Figures of speechGary Soto uses a lot of imagery in this poem. Each line translates into a new activity by the boy in the alley thus allowing the reader to visualize the boy’s acts all through the poem. There is the use of simile for instance. In line eight, ‘I hurled light bulbs like grenades’; light bulbs are compared to grenades being hurled. This helps the reader to have a vivid picture of the situation being described. Hurling of grenades is a scary and dangerous act meant to cause an uproar or harm, and so did the boy in a quest to get attention.

There also is the use of Synecdoche. This refers to a figure of speech where a part of a given item or living thing represents the whole item or living thing. In line four, ‘… and a happy tongue’, the happy tongue refers to the dog as a whole, an entirely cheerful dog and not just the tongue as suggested.

Language DevicesThe poem is written in free verse; therefore, there are no noticeable language devices like alliteration, onomatopoeia or alliteration among others.

Symbolic Objects and theme of the poemThe child symbolizes people in search of a particular identity. Such people will do anything to get the attention they desire, they can even engage in misconduct or unruly behavior. The child shapes the theme in the poem, a theme that people change even negatively in search for attention.

Travelling through the Dark by William Stafford, Monday July 1, 2013Words I did not knowI came across two new words and established their meanings. These are canyon and doe. A canyon refers to a deep valley that has a stream flowing through it whereas a doe refers to a female deer.

Words/Phrases that Interest meMost of the words used in the picture are negative giving the poem a negative tone. It is almost uncomfortable to read the poem because tension builds from one line to another. Words like ‘dead on the edge’ in line two, ‘a recent killing’ in line six, ‘I could hear the wilderness listen’ in line sixteen and ‘pushed her over the edge into the river’ in line eighteen. All these phrases depict a negative encounter; they are reminiscent of a bad encounter in one’s life. Reading through it I am reminded of the scary ogre stories during my childhood. The setting of such stories was in the forests/wilderness and this poem to some extent actualizes such tales.

Figures of SpeechThis poem is generally a metaphor of life as reflected by the choice of words like ‘travelling through the dark’ in line one. It refers to the life we live, at some point we come face with compromising situations that call for tough decisions. The dark and the wilderness reflect these tough moments. When the persona decided to throw the dead deer into the river, it was a hard choice. In line eighteen he says, ‘I thought hard for us all.’ His action was representative of the entire human populace in that society.

Language DevicesOne outstanding language device Stafford uses is alliteration in line one, ‘travelling through the dark’. The /t/ sound is repeated thus creating rhythm. It makes the poem enjoyable and memorable.

Symbolic Objects and ThemeThe use of the words ‘dark’ and ‘deer’ in line one is symbolic. There also is the mention of ‘river’ in line two and ‘car’ on line thirteen. Some of these words represent nature and one (car) represents a man-made object, a machine. This symbolizes a contrast between nature and a man-made world. The lifeless doe is contrasted with the car that is full of ‘life’. Eventually, the speaker in the poem has to take action. He throws the dead body into the river. This could be symbolic of man-made environmental damage and thus the theme of the poem. Dumping the dead body in the river was the only ‘rational’ decision the persona could arrive at. It is ironic that he was as an ambassador of goodwill, having sympathized with the dead deer and even stopped at the scene. But eventually, his decision to throw the dead deer into the river was rather irrational.

Poetry Friday: Snapping Beans by Lisa Parker, Monday July 1, 2013Words/Phrases I did not knowA new phrase I encountered is ‘a swig of strychnine’ in line nineteen and spigot in line twenty four. ‘Swig’ refers to a big sip and strychnine refers to a bitter poison obtained from plants. It is used as a nerve stimulant.

Words/Phrases that interest meThe poem is about a school girl who goes home on a weekend to visit. She is with her grandmother. Just as in Behind Grandma’s House by Gary Soto, the word ‘grandmother’ captures my interest. It reminds me of how grandmothers love and protect their grandchildren. However, in Parker’s poem, the girl’s grandmother is religious and strict. We see her humming a Christian hymn in line six. Furthermore, the persona is not confident enough to tell her about her college experience.

Figures of SpeechParker uses simile in line eighteen, ‘potent as a swig of strychnine’. Her college experiences are referred to as being potent and are compared to a swig of strychnine. The potency (extreme influence) has been likened to a poisonous substance, strychnine. This shows that the experiences were not entirely pleasant.

Language DevicesParker uses alliteration in line one, ‘I snapped beans into the silver bowl’ and line two, ‘that sat on the splintering slats’. The /s/ sound is repeated, it creates a rhythm thus making the poem lyrical and memorable.

Symbolic ObjectsThe ‘hickory leaf blowing loose’ in line is symbolic of the girl going to college. When the leaf is ‘summer green’ in line forty one also symbolizes the girl on summer break. School in the north is symbolic of intellectualism, whereas the persona’s home in the south where we encounter her grandmother is symbolic of tradition and culture. Life at home is conservative and religious as shown by the grandmother’s character. Contrarily, life at school is exotic, wild and adventurous to the extent that the girl cannot tell of her experiences.

Nighttime Fires by Regina Barreca, Monday July 1, 2013Words/Phrases that interest meLine eight to nine, ‘… he woke my mother, and she pushed and shoved us all into waking’ capture my interest. This phrase suggests some reluctance of the children as well as the mother to wake up past midnight. They feel bothered by their father’s obsession of driving past meet night to see nighttime flies. The dissatisfaction that comes along with it is further illustrated by the diction in line two to three, ‘… piled seven of us, all pajamas and running noses’. This reminds me of reluctance felt as a kid when your mother wakes you up in the morning to go to school. Sometimes you have to be shoved and pushed in order to wake up.

Figures of SpeechImagery is employed in the poem. For instance, there is the use of simile in line fourteen, ‘… fire engines that snaked like dragons.’ The movement of the fire engines is compared to dragons. There also is simile in line twenty seven, ‘… eyes like hallways filled with smoke.’ Eyes are compared to smoke-filled hallways. The use of this figure of speech helps the reader visualize clearly in his mind what is being described and hence a clear understanding of the poem.

Language DevicesThere is alliteration in line nine, ‘the wolf-whine of the siren, he woke my mother.’ The /w/ sound is used repeatedly and this enhances rhythm. This is also evident in line sixteen (… a Cadillac or any car on a curved driveway…) where the /k/ sound is repeated. It equally enhances rhythm and makes the poem memorable.

Phrases that Reveal the Theme of the PoemThe poem is centered on the frustrations experienced by the persona’s father upon losing his job. Words like ‘… read old newspapers with no news, tried crosswords until he split the pencil between his teeth, mad’ in lines six to seven reveal the father’s frustrations.

Works Cited

Behind Grandma’s House by Gary Soto

Nighttime Fires by Regina BarrecaPoetry Friday: Snapping Beans by Lisa Parker

Travelling through the Dark by William Stafford

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