“The Gift” Analysis: Advanced Placement Format
1. Who is the speaker in the poem? Describe.
The speaker in the poem is Li-Young Lee himself. He is describing a memory from his childhood.
2. Who is the audience of the poem?
The audience of the poem is any person. The poem says, “Had you entered that afternoon you would have thought you saw a man planting something in a boy’s palm,a silver tear, a tiny flame. Had you followed that boy you would have arrived here where I bend over my wife’s right hand.” The “you” can be any person, and if they had walked into the room they would have seen Li-Young Lee’s father taking the splinter out, and if they had followed that boy (Li-Young Lee) through his life, they would be where he is right now watching him take a splinter out of his wife’s hand, the way his father had done to him when he was little.
3. What is the situation and setting of the poem?
The situation is Li-Young Lee taking a splinter out of his wife’s hand. The poem says, “Had you followed that little boy you would have arrived here, where I bend over my wife’s right hand”. The poem does not give enough of a clue to where here is. However, during an interview with Bill Moyers, Li-Young Lee commented, “I was with my wife in a hotel and I woke up and heard her sobbing. I looked for her and she was sitting on the edge of the bathtub, sobbing and holding her hand. I noticed that her hand was bleeeding , and when I looked there was a splinter under her thumbnail.”
4. State the poem’s central idea or theme in a single sentence.
Li-Young Lee’s father gave “the gift” of tenderness to him, which he was able to give to his wife later in life.
5. Describe the structural pattern of thepoem both in terms of visual patterns and sound patterns (stanzas, rhyme scheme, meter, free verse, alliteration, repetition, etc.)
There is no rhyme or meter in this poem. Li-Young Lee writes in free verse. In the first stanza describes his father removing his splinter when he was a boy. The second stanza describes him remembering the exact way his father acted when he removed his splinter. The third stanza describes his father giving “the gift of tenderness” to him, and then gives the reader a hint that he is going to do the same thing to his wife. The last stanza describes him removing the splinter from his wife’s hand and goes back one last time to talking about his experience with his father. There is not repetition in this poem. Li-Young Lee writes his poems exactly as he remembers the memory.
6. Comment on the poem’s diction. How does diction relate to tone?
Li-Young Lee uses common language. His tone is very reflective. He describes in thorough detail his memory of his father, and notices that the tenderness he is using with his wife was a result of his father.
7. Is imagery dominant? Explain.
Yes. Li-Young Lee’s poems are full of imagery. He uses every single word to help get a clear picture of exactly what’s going on. For example, to describe his father’s voice he says, “but hear his voice still, a well of dark water, a prayer”. He describes his father’s hands, “And I recall his hands, two measures of tenderness he laid against my face…”. Through imagery he lets the reader know exactly how he was feeling in that moment.
8. Is the poem narrative or lyric?
The poem is narrative. It tells the story of the memory he had of his father removing his splinter, and then the story of him removing one from his wife’s hand now.
9. Comment on figurative language (metaphore, extended metaphore, simile, idiom, personification).
He compares his father’s voice to a well of dark water and to a prayer. He does this to get the reader to be able to hear the deep, rich, and dark voice his father has (the well of dark water) but yet to hear the calmness and tenderness of his voice telling a story to his son (the prayer). The poem says, “Had you entered that afternoon you would have thought you saw a man planting something in a boy’s palm, a sliver tear, a tiny flame”. He uses the silver tear and the tiny flame to describe what his father looked like removing the splinter. He looked as if he was giving his son a silver tear (which causes the reader to see the tenderness in which he’s removing the splinter) or a tiny flame. His father was “giving him a gift” and comparing that gift to a “tiny flame or a silver tear” shows how precious the gift was.
10. Explain any symbols. Is the poem allegorical?
Most of Li-Young Lee’s poems are memories. He is known for his imagery, and ability to cause the reader to know exactly what was happening at that moment in the poem and exactly how he was feeling. His poems are not allegorical; they are just meant to capture a moment of a memory in exact detail. In an interview, Bill Moyers told Lee, “I’m touched by ‘The Gift’. Tell me why you wrote it.” Lee replied, “I was with my wife in a hotel and I woke up and heard her sobbing…” Lee bases his poems off experiences he had in his life, and he attempts to recreate them in a poem. When asked in that interview, “Are you able to let go of your father as a subject? Do you think you’ve written your last poem about him? Have you settled that old quarrel?” Lee replied, “I don’t think I’ve settled that old quarrel, but I think for the good of my own writing, I have had to force myself to look beyond him, although in a way I’m being guided again by him to look at things that were important to him. I’d like to write about my own struggle with belief and disbelief and I’d like to write my own experiences as an immigrant and refugee.” He writes about direct experiences rather than expressing truths about life.
My scholarly source is: Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee.