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Immigrant Blues
Immigrant Blues
by Li-Young Lee

Sound Check

Read this poem aloud. What do you hear?

The Immigrant Voice(s)

"Immigrant Blues" blends a bunch of different voices. We have the seriousness of the father and the almost childish simplicity of our speaker's question, "Am I inside you?". We have the existential concerns of our speaker and the patient, loving, totally-at-ease response of the woman.

In fact, almost half the poem is made up of either dialogue or names for the story – and those names are often in an entirely separate, academic voice. And, as we talk about more in the "Setting" section, there's not a lot in the poem aside from these voices. So we'll say it again: this is a poem of voices, and of names.

That all these voices mix together in one poem, in one story, makes us feel like "Immigration Blues" achieves a sort of assimilation. This is pretty fitting when you consider its subject matter. Even if it doesn't make its characters completely at home in their new country, it creates another sort of home for them: a space where their conversations and the names for their experiences fit together into one story. And not a new, foreign story, but one rooted in history and a long tradition of people being uprooted and resettling in another place.

Repeat It, Lee

Part of the way Lee achieves this awesome assimilation is through repetition. Check out our "Form and Meter" section for the inside scoop on the repetition of whole phrases. Here we'll stick to the small stuff, like the repetition of sounds.

Here and there, this poem has a sprinkling of assonance, or repeated vowel sounds, and alliteration, or repeated consonants. Lee doesn't hit you over the head with it; he's much more subtle than that. Take, for example, the third stanza:

The same old story from yesterday morning
about me and my son.
(6-7)

First, there's the repeated vowel sound of "story" and "morning," which rolls right off the tongue like a song. Then, there are the repeated "s" sounds – "same," "story," and "son" – which tie the two lines together. He uses similar techniques at other spots along the way. Can you spot them? Do they change the way you read the poem?

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