by Li-Young Lee
Immigrant Blues Theme of Death
There are only a couple times in "Immigrant Blues" when death is mentioned directly, but the sense of mortality and the need to survive underlie the poem in at least a couple ways. First, escaping danger and death and the struggle to survive are often what drives people to immigrate. Second, these concerns about death seem to fuel our speaker's confusion about the relationship between the body and soul. While this may not explicitly be a poem about death, it's definitely a poem about the fragility of life.
Questions About Death
- How does the opening line affect how we read the rest of the poem? Is our speaker's father being melodramatic, or do you really think people are trying to kill him?
- Do you think that by avoiding any mention of a specific place or political situation, our speaker puts the focus of that first line more directly on the issue of mortality? Or does leaving out the details make the threat of death seem less real, less pressing?
- Our speaker tells us that the woman he's talking to on the phone is "at peace with the body's finitude" (21). Does that mean that our speaker is not at peace with death? How does that relate to his confusion about body and soul?
- What do you think it means that the woman is "at peace with the soul's disregard / of space and time" (22-23)?
Chew on This
The poem suggests that our speaker's confusion about body and soul relates to his fear of death, because the soul, which is eternal, inhabits a body, which is very, very temporary.
Our speaker is wrestling with how love and death affect one another.