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Study Questions

This Hour and What Is Dead Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
  1. Why do you think our speaker tells us nothing about himself in a physical sense (is he lying in bed, pacing the hall, drinking a glass of orange juice in the kitchen)? What's the effect of having the whole poem take place in his thoughts, imagination, and memory? And what do you think is actually going on around him?
  2. Does the entrance of God into the poem make sense to you, logically or emotionally? How about that description of God's mouth and breath? What does it tell us about the speaker of the poem?
  3. If you had to construct a family history based on the information you get in the poem, what might it look like? What can you make of the brother's birthplace set to torches, the father leaving the light on, the journey, and the father's mending of five pairs of pants? Do you think this is autobiographical on Li-Young Lee's part?
  4. How do you reconcile the speaker's obvious attachment to and love for his brother and father, and his simultaneous desire to be free of their memory and the thoughts of them that keep him awake?
  5. Our speaker repeats the structure of introducing a dead person, describing them, and how their love makes him feel, and then asking that person to leave him alone. Plus there is the repetition of burning, flight, and water. And then there's the refrain that the title predicts, about "this hour" and "what is dead." So here's what we're really asking: What's with all the repetition?
  6. How would you describe our speaker's state of mind? Is he resentful? Sad? Angry? Nostalgic? Afraid?
  7. Why isn't this called, "This Hour and Who Is Dead"?
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