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Poem at Thirty-Nine
- Alice Walker

Summary:
  • The title highlights that the author is an adult. It creates a nostalgic tone.

  • The poem is an extremely personal and relaxed account of how the speaker misses her father and how she regrets the hard life he had to live. She describes the way her father taught her. The speaker now shares the intrinsic characteristics that her father once had and is proud that she is able to find peace in her memories of him and the thought that he would be proud of the woman she has become.

Themes:
  • Remembrance/ memories

  • Loneliness

  • Father-daughter relationship/Familial love

  • Life and death (elegy)

  • Childhood

Tone:
  • Personal

  • Nostalgia

  • Realistic

  • Raw

  • Proud

  • Lament/regret- “though many of my truths must have grieved him before the end”

  • Appreciation

Structure:
  • Free verse/irregular rhyme scheme. Six unequal stanzas reflect chain of thought.

  • Personal pronouns “I”- individualises the poem. ‘My’- the continual use of personal pronouns (first person narrative) highlights how intimate the poem is.

  • Enjambment- “I wish I had not been/so tired”- emphasises the following line. Enjambment also accentuates remembrance and emulates the ‘train of thought’ and recollection of memories. It highlights the chain of thought and reflects the author’s struggle to express her emotions.

  • The first part of the poem emphasises her regret about not having enough time with her father.

  • The second part of the poem exacerbates her pleasure at the similarities between her and her father.

Meaning:
  • The poem explores the feeling of nostalgia and loss as she reflects on her relationship with her dead father. She explains the wonderful things he had taught her such as how money isn’t everything and to not take time with loved ones for granted.

Imagery:
  • “Writing deposit slips and checks”, “Bits of paper”- semantic field of finance/ monetary imagery- suggests money was a burden for her family. Implies he has to work a lot.

  • ‘Savings account’- indicates respected father’s advice.

  • “He cooked like a person/ dancing/ in a yoga meditation”- funny oxymoron (light-hearted tone) highlights the movement vs the stillness and the fact that he did it all

Language:
  • ‘I miss’, ‘I wish’- immediate mournful/regretful tone. The theme of loss is evident here.

  • ‘I think of him’- nostalgic tone

  • ‘This is the form’- simple sentences and language- childlike language

  • ‘To escape the life he knew’- the use of the word ‘escape’ here implies hardship and the caring nature of her father.

  • ‘Truth’- the word indicates the values he believed in

  • ‘A beating’, ‘must have grieved him’- implies some conflict, reflects a regretful tone

  • ‘Before the end’- euphemism highlights difficulty in coming to terms with his death

  • ‘How I miss my father!’- repetition of the line. The exclamation mark mirrors just how greatly she misses him. The tone here is much more celebratory here.

  • ‘Dancing in a yoga meditation’- oxymoron- beautiful to watch, energetic yet focused.

  • ‘Craved’, ‘sharing’- highlights his generosity

  • ‘Look and cook’- assonance here represents the similarities between Walker and her father

  • ‘Seasoning none of my life the same way twice’- metaphor implies she has escaped the ‘life he knew’

  • ‘Cooking, writing, chopping wood;- listing here emphasises her independance

  • ‘Fire’- symbolism suggests her father still lives on.

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