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The theme of this poem is given away by the title. The poem represents human heritage, more specifically the hertitage of the poet, Heather Buck. I think this poem is her way of expressing her feelings and inhibitions about her painful past and the hardships she endured as a child growing up in a world of adults.
we hang our quiet landscapes
tipping and tilting them till we achieve
an uneasy marriage
These are lines 18, 19 and 20 in stanza three, I believe that when she writes we she is refering to her parents and then she generalises, as if all parents and all families were like hers. I believe she is saying that her parents had a rocky marriage before she was born because she goes on to say,
Was the child with hands outsteched to the blaze
less constrained? Taking her place
on the trampled earth floor with lambs
brought in from the cold bitter springs
The child is herself and she s saying that when she was born she was innocent, because her hands were held out to fire which is a symbol of purity. less contrained? She uses a rhetorical question there and it says that even though she was a new born baby she was already interwined in the complex patterns of the heritage of herself and others. Lines 19 and 20 show that she saw that life was not always joyful because they talk about the cold and bitter springs and hardly anyone would describe spring as being cold and bitter if they were feeling happy and positive. Maybe she feels that she brought a new type of pain to her family. Either that or she feels that she was brought into a world already full of pain and suffering.
Then in the last stanza she shows how out of place she felt growing up,
but the young child is lost in a forest
of towering adults
From this you can tell that she was probably an only child and perhaps even an unwanted child. The last line of the poem is not open to easy assesment. I think that there are two ways to interpret it, you can either assume that the child she is talking about represents young minds everywhere that are stuggling to come to terms with their new lives or you can assume that she wasn t loved as a child and as a consequence she felt very left out of her heritage and very misplaced. The latter is what I believe to be the basic theme of this poem.
Heather Buck uses a great deal of poetic devices to really bring out the general theme of her poem, however she uses them in such a way that the theme and point of the poem are debatable as is the true meaning of her extended metaphor.
In the first stanza she writes,
on Persian rugs we set our feet
blind to the woven threads and dyes,
the intricate patterns that shape our lives,
This is obviously not to be taken literally, the persian rug represents her heritage and the intricate patterns are everything that happens or has happened in her life that has had an effect on her heritage. She uses rhyme there as well (dyes and lives) and although they are not true rhymes they flow well and they make emjambment unecessary. Also something interesting is line 4, the fact that she is blind to her heritage suggests that she knows it is there but she and others take it for granted. Throughout the poem she is constantly generalising issues that are obviously quite personal to her. As if because she had these experiances everyone else or everyone reading the poem must have had them as well.
Something I feel is worth mentioning is the way she begins the poem,
Coreopsis, saffron, madder,
daily we tread kaleidoscopes of colour,
I think that this is ironic because Coreopsis are yellow flowers, saffron is a yellow herb and madder produces yellow dye. So basically the 2nd line should be, daily we tread kaleidoscopes of yellow. The fact that the colour is yellow must also have some symbolism connected to it. I think that it could be because it is the colour most associated with light and light is usually associated with birth. For example in Portuguese to give birth is directly translated into English as to give light (dar luz). However white is usually more symbolic of a pure kind of light so in conclusion I think this could be tied in nicely with line 25 where she talks about her birth being cold and bitter or off white which is yellow.
Back to the extended metaphor, the next time it appears are in lines 12 14 where she writes about,
the rhythmic clatter of treadle and shuttle
or flinched as cold fastened on fingers,
winds shuddered and knived through their looms.
A loom is where rugs and materials for rugs are made. The way she describes it does not make Persian rug making sound very pleasurable at all. In fact she makes it sound quite painful and cold. In line 12 she uses imagery by using an onomatopoeic word (clatter) and by using treadle and shuttle. She makes the process sound painful by extensive use of alliteration in the next line. She hyperbolises the amount of pain that goes into making the rugs. All the time you must remember that these rugs are strictly metaphorical and everytime she talks about making them on the loom , she is talking about events or people or things that have happened in her lifetime or before, that have had an impact on her heritage. Within which she is completely confused and lost as states line 34.
The structure of the poem has no obvious pattern as far as the number of lines or any rhyming patterns are concerned, however the way she writes it has a big impact on the way a reader would interpret it. She starts by talking very generally about heritage, then she goes into how people have suffered in the past to make up parts of other people s heritages. Then she starts to write from what seems to be from personal experiances however she begins to write so that the theme or point of the poem becomes slightly ambiguios. Then she finishes rather pessimistically and by generalising her personal feelings.
The rhythm of this poem is as follows; stanza 1 is quite slow as an introduction to the main body of the poem, stanza 2 begins to speed up, stanza 3 goes very fast and does this by use of alliteration and enjambment, stanza 4 is quick to begin with but then it slows down considerably and the poem is positive for a few lines, then the last stanza is very fast. It also uses enjambment.
Consider where the poem gets positive for awhile (lines 27 32). The first glimpse of positivity is in the word sunlight, which I think speaks for itself. Then she writes about,
vigorous stirrings in field and hedge
encouraged the comings and goings in household and barn
These lines make the poem sound happy and they sound some what like a happy spring time, perhaps in the mating season for animals and where everyone is happy. In line 32 she writes,
braiding their hair for the Whitsun-tide fair. The simple line makes it sound like a limerick and this gives the poem an almost silly feeling. I think the reason Buck did this was so that the next stanza would contrast even more with the positive side of the poem.
In conclusion I think that like many poems written mainly with metaphors and extended metaphors there are many different ways to interpret this poem. It depends on how the reader identifies with what the poet has written. I don t particularly like this poem, mainly because it is very negative although I am yet to find a good poem written by someone in a happy or positive state of mind.
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