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Symbol Analysis

The poem begins with the woman eating an orange as part of her breakfast, but, soon, just like the cockatoo, the orange becomes a symbol of sacrifice, then comfort. Most of the images of fruit in the poem involve enjoying the seasons and cycles of nature.

  • Line 2: The woman is eating a late breakfast of coffee and oranges outside on a Sunday morning.
  • Line 9: The smell of the orange is described as "pungent," or very strong. Using simile, the poet compares the orange to a gift that ancient people bring along on a procession to visit an important tomb – in this case, the tomb of Christ. The fruit is like a gift that someone brings to place on the tomb as a sacrifice to the dead.
  • Line 20: At the end of the first stanza, the oranges are part of the procession to Christ’s tomb. In this stanza, they are considered a part of nature – the "balm or beauty of the earth" – and a source of comfort that’s just as powerful as thinking about heaven.
  • Lines 73-75: As part of the extended metaphor comparing death to a mother (specifically, the mother of beauty), the poet says that death "causes boys to pile new plums and pears" on an old, forgotten plate. The delicious fruit causes beautiful young women to forget about all the things that death has taken away.
  • Lines 77-78: The ripe fruit which never falls from the tree is a symbol of the slightly sad perfection of heaven. It’s almost too perfect, because the fruit wants to reach the ground. The poem seems to personify the fruit by giving it desires.
  • Lines 83-84: We’re back to the image of boys piling fruit on a plate, like bait for the beautiful young women. But, in heaven, there would be no point in "spicing the shores," because the scent wouldn’t go anywhere, and the joy of the maidens depends on the existence of change.
  • Line 116: So far, we see oranges, pears, and plums. Now, we get imagery of – ta-da! – "sweet berries." The difference between the berries and the other fruit is that they grow on their own "in the wilderness," rather than being used as food by humans. Their "sweetness" makes it that much more surprising that the berries are out of reach. "You mean, there are delicious, sweet berries growing out there where no one can pick and eat them?! What a waste!" But, obviously, those berries aren’t just meant for our pleasure.

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