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Symbol Analysis

Language isn’t just some flighty, abstract idea in this poem. It’s as real as a juicy blackberry or a "clown-faced woodpecker." For the Platonic philosophers, language is the means to access the higher world of ideas, but, for Hass, language is the means to access both nature and ideas. Notice how many words are put in italics throughout the poem. These italicized words are more than just words – they are symbols of how language works through both meaning and sound.

  • Lines 3-4: Both the "particular" and the "general idea" can be expressed only through language. The particular takes away from, or "erases," the "luminous clarity" of ideas.
  • Lines 10-11: The metaphor of line 10 compares the sound of the word "blackberry" to a real blackberry "bramble." When a word sounds like what it means, it’s known as onomatopoeia. In line 11, a word is called an "elegy," which is a kind of poem that is written in mourning of a person and a thing. Single words aren’t actually poems, so this is a metaphor.
  • Line 13: In this metaphor, the "grief" of the friend’s voice is called a "thin wire."
  • Lines 15-16: The meaning of the words in italics "dissolves" or disappears in the context of the overly philosophical discussion.
  • Lines 28-29: Using simile, he compares the "numinous" or spiritual aspect of the body to the way that words refer to intellectual ideas.
  • Lines 30-31: The sweet song of the word "blackberry" is a symbol of the tenderness of the "afternoons and evenings."

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