English Composition II
29 July 2018
The Cost of Living Poor – An Explication
Pope John XXIII once said, “Born poor, but of honored and humble people, I am particularly proud to die poor.” In the poem Lament—I by an unknown author, there is a family that experiences the conflict of poverty. The writer follows them through their feelings from living in the neighborhood that they live in as well as how they react.
This poem’s word choice was very interesting. First, his choice of word for the title caught my attention. Lament is, by dictionary definition, a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. Throughout the poem the writer expresses an excessive feeling of struggle. In the beginning the readers can already see that the writer is not proud of his home. He says in line 1-10, “When I see the houses in this city, the electric gates and uniformed men employed to guard the riches of the rich, the gilded columns and gardens, the boats on water, I wonder, how to describe my home to you: the short mud walls, the whispering roof, the veranda on which my whole family used to spread sheets and sleep.” (Lament, 685). He describes the rich area so beautifully but seems to leave out any description of his own home leaving it at just a mud house with a weak roof. He then seems to contradict himself further down in the poem by expressing his anger when his wife decides to paint the house to make it seem whiter than the neighbor’s house. This is not expected after seeing how he spoke of this house. However, it may be that he is angry because he believes that his wife should not focus on attempting to make their house better, but to be proud of their home. This is apparent because he seems to address the price of the painting not anywhere near worth it by saying “Half a month’s wage—to decorate your nest like a shiny jewel?” (Lament, 685). I thought the way he describes the action of painting could lead a reader to believe that he is not happy with her actions. It almost seems the term “shiny jewel” is used in a negative way. Furthermore, He seems to have hint of envy in his tone when talking about the rich. To see his wife trying to compete with them might be degrading or embarrassing which would turn into anger.
The tone of the poem “Lament—-I” seems to be one of poignancy. Poignancy refers to the evoking of feelings of sadness or regret, in which the author of this poem portrays via a flashback that contrasts what he sees now and what he saw back then. In the segment of the flashback, he describes the modernized area as having “electric gates” and “gilded columns and gardens” amongst other things whilst comparing it to the mere “short, mud walls” where his “family used to spread sheets and sleep.” Further emphasizing the theme of poignancy, the author expresses how he hit his wife, the catalyst of the poignancy, for squandering half a month’s wage to paint their house walls white through the lines “I beat her for her foolishness” and “you steal like a magpie—half a month’s wage—- to decorate your nest like a shiny jewel?”. Despite the state of poverty, they were in, it can be said that the man was satisfied with the existing simplistic lifestyle they had. Thirdly, an intentional switch of words in the title correlate with the mindset that the character is undergoing, where what is first described in detail is his former life, followed by his current life. Additionally, the monsoon that took place in the flashback can be representative of a shift from suffering to happiness; while the inverse happened to his wife because the paint peeled off the walls while everyone wanting to remain simply got what was needed. Lastly, when the flashback reverts to the present time, he misses his old lifestyle and family as he lies on the city pavements. This is evidenced by the imagining of his wife’s skin, kohl (eye makeup), the night sky and the view of the stars. The poem concludes cryptically, where it states “… until I am shaped back into existence.” This can be symbolic of how he now lacks a place to belong and an identity due to his sheer circumstances that seem to imply that he’s homeless, since he’s lying on the city pavements and lamenting on how things used to be.
Within this poem there was a plethora of figurative language. From similes to metaphors, the author uses many forms to express his ideas. Within the first stanza he describes his roof as a “whispering roof” which can be an onomatopoeia. If taken literally, the whispering could be there because of holes in the roof or the material being airy. However, if taken figuratively, as stated before, this could mean that in comparison to the other houses their roof is weak. With a weak roof comes unstable living conditions. This could be a great representation of the economic state of the family. Which would also be the emotional state as well as the mental state of their family because money can lead to those stressors. In lines 26-27 the writer says, “My son sat with his mouth open catching drops of water like a frog.” (Lament, 685). He compares his son to a frog who is drinking water that falls from the sky. This might compare the boy to a frog that is desperate for water. The writer later mentions in line 34 “with all the weight of the stars,” (Lament, 686). This is a way to figuratively place a weight on the writer as he is living out on the streets. The stars represent the regrets and the sorrows of his life. At night when he is alone, he only has the stars. The stars being the only thing to keep him company which gives him no choice but to be weighed down by them. He then says in line 38 “I want to open my mouth like my son,” (Lament, 686). This is him expressing his yearning to be as free and accepting of things as his son is. After he becomes this, he will then be “Shaped back into existence” (Lament, 686).
Lament—I was a different approach on poverty that most readers would not have read before. This author put a great amount of emotion into every line written. There might not have been any rhythm in this poem itself but when reading Lament, there was a certain music to it. There was so many accounts of figurative language, tone, and word choice that made readers think about what they believe the author meant which left a very open interpretation.