Sunday, January 8, 2012

Testimonial by Rita Dove

Testimonial by Rita Dove

Back when the earth was new
and heaven just a whisper,
back when the names of things
hadn't had time to stick;

back when the smallest breezes
melted summer into autumn,
when all the poplars quivered
sweetly in rank and file . . .

the world called, and I answered.
Each glance ignited to a gaze.
I caught my breath and called that life,
swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet.

I was pirouette and flourish,
I was filigree and flame.
How could I count my blessings
when I didn't know their names?

Back when everything was still to come,
luck leaked out everywhere.
I gave my promise to the world,
and the world followed me here.

I find this poem to carry a strong sense of nostalgia, one which is tangible as the reader describes the beloved memories of a time "when the earth was new". I've interpreted this time, which is so vividly described by Dove as one in which she exists no longer, to be childhood, and perhaps even innocence itself. She writes, "I caught my breath and called that life, swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet".The narrator speaks as if his/her youth was the epitome of life, a perfect happiness in which one lives ignorant of hardship and struggle. She writes about youth's fragility and playfulness, "I was pirouette and flourish, I was filigree and flame", and how she had taken the delicately flawless moments for granted - "How could I count my blessings when I didn't know their names?". I love this poem because I feel she captures the familiar and habitual longing for one's childhood with the same elegance and delicacy that the poem itself is illustrating.  
Devices:
Alliteration - "swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet"(12), "filigree and flame" (14), "luck leaked"(18)
Assonance - I noticed that she uses assonance in many of the stanzas in the second and last lines: "whisper" and "stick"; "gaze" and "sorbet"; "flame"and "names"
Dactyl - "pirouette" and "filigree" (13, 14)- they indicate the playfulness which Dove is trying to portray
Enjambment - 
"back when the smallest breezes
melted summer into autumn," (5-6)

8 comments:

  1. I really do like this poem. I am not very good with poetry so, just like Nick's poem, I had to reread it a couple of times before I finally understood what the poem was about. The speaker is clearly looking back on her memories as a child and, with the last stanza, she connects her childhood life with her present life. I agree with Kate that this is a beautifully written poem. The lines and words the poet choose absolutely reflects her overall purpose of the poem: to look back on childhood and realize how it brought her to where she is today. My favorite line in this poem is: "back when the smallest breezes /
    melted summer into autumn". The wording gives me shivers because it is so true. Children are so innocent and carefree that each second is so very precious. Also, how one simple breeze can wash away all worries and bring a new beginning. Overall, I really liked this poem, however, I believe the poet could have ended with a stronger / better stanza. I do not really feel like the wording in the last stanza flows with the poem and it just seems to pop out her purpose of writing the poem and ends.

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  2. I agree that this poem describes childhood very well. My favorite line is "How could I count my blessings when I didn't know their names?" When you are a child, you do not realize how happy and simple life is. It is only when you are older and look back on those times that you realize how special those times were. I also like the line "swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet". Sorbet is such a simple pleasure, and childhood is full of these kinds of pleasures. In childhood, simply eating sorbet will make you happy while in adulthood it takes much more to be happy.

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  3. This is such a lovely poem. I also agree - it really does arouse a feeling of nostalgia for my childhood. I really like the first stanza actually - "Back when the earth was new / and heaven just a whisper, / back when the names of things / hadn't had time to stick;" I like how she found such a interesting way of describing our perception of the world as little kids. The whole world was new to us, and death was such a hard concept to grasp. Each day was a new adventure. Also, as kids, we were constantly introduced to new things, so we never really had enough time to remember names of everything.
    Besides reminiscing about the past, I think Dove's underlying message is that as kids, we appreciated every little thing in life, like a spoonful of lemon sorbet. But as we get older and become adults, we tend to lose sight of those little pleasures. Perhaps Dove is reminding us to remember and appreciate the little things, and maybe then can we find happiness once again.

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  4. I really love the imagery in this poem: "I was pirouette and flourish, I was filigree and flame." It reminds me of the lightness of childhood. "Each glance ignited to a gaze. I caught my breath and called that life" is another favorite line- how everything you see when you are younger catches your gaze, and is new and exciting and full of life.

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  5. In her poem, Rita Dove has the ability to embody the thought process of children, and their emotions. Beginning with the naïve nature of children, who have so much to explore they ignore taking in their surroundings. As the speaker grew older, and found time to reflect on her life, she started to realize the blessings offered to her. I enjoyed this poem and its message because it is so easy to relate to. Many days when I a sit at my desk doing homework for hours on end I dream of the days of my childhood where I could spend whole afternoons playing pointless games without any pressures or things that needed to be accomplished. Similarly, I want to be able to find as much joy from simple pleasures as I did as a child. In her poem, Rita Dove longs for the carefree youth that she once enjoyed, when “everything was still to come”.

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  6. It’s funny how we all cherish these small moments of nostalgia before we have to return to reality and continue with our lives. Like Emmy, I think the imagery of this poem carries a lasting effect on readers and captures the joy of childhood, when the entire world astonished us – everything was new. I love image in which “the world called, and I answered…I caught my breath and called that life”, because it reminds me of the awe I felt over things that I have now perhaps become too familiar with to appreciate. The lines, “I was pirouette and flourish, I was filigree and flame”, also makes me smile; I can imagine the fiery energy and enthusiasm of children.

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  7. I feel like this poem is deppresing. I feel like this poem talks of the loss of innocence and the passing over of the threshold of harsh adult life. For almost the entire poem Dove speaks of times of new age and of gentle happiness in childhood. But then, "Back when everything was still to come,
    luck leaked out everywhere.
    I gave my promise to the world,
    and the world followed me here.",

    Here Dove speaks of how "the world followed" her here. This combined with the thought that "luck leaked out everywhere" gives the image that the speaker is suddenly thrust into the harsh realities of life.
    I can't quite see how this poem can be viewed in any other way but a sad one. Overall, the "testimonies" to the bliss of childhood is nice, but I feel that it is completely overshadowed by the vague phrase that "the world followed" her here. That last line is vague, but it for some reason gives a feeling of foreboding.

    I like this poem.

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