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Dear all, I am studying the poem The Sleeping Giant of Donald Hall. I don't understand...

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anskwak | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 9, 2012 at 10:47 AM via web

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Dear all,

I am studying the poem The Sleeping Giant of Donald Hall. I don't understand its meaning. I hope somebody can help me to analyse this poem.

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lkhernandez | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted June 9, 2012 at 8:13 PM (Answer #1)

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Hall’s poem depicts with detail the fantastic imagination of a four year old child. Much like people in the past used mythology to explain things they could not understand, children build an understanding of the world around them by what they see and what they can imagine. The present day speaker returns in his memory to a time when he played outside his house all day and his imagination could run full force. There is literally a hill nearby which he can see and create a story about its existence. To this four year old little boy there is a certain possibility that this hill was once a giant, likely an antagonistic character, that had been either knocked out or fallen asleep and been buried by the people of the town.

The little boy watches this hill and thinks about a day this giant may wake up and terrorize the town for burying him under the earth. He visualizes first the arm of the giant pushing through the earth and moving up to rub his sleepy eyes, much like a person does upon first waking in the morning. This is the arm the speaker refers to in the second stanza.

The Atlantic is the enemy because the child next visualizes this giant pushing himself up and storming through the streets, casting a huge dark shadow over the town and pulling roofs off and destroying the homes. He would reach the ocean, kneel, and in anger use his finger nails to scratch a trench from the ocean into the town. This being is so huge that his fingernails alone could create a trench giant enough to devastate the town. The water would rush full force, flood, and destroy the town.

The final stanza uses a metaphor to demonstrate what age does to a child’s once wild imagination. The summer the speaker could see this giant he was merely four years old with little clouding his innocent mind. This was when the “sun” was high in the sky. The rising sun usually depicts beginnings and birth, while the setting sun represents endings and death. While the sun is “high” the speaker is young and still in a prime time of his youth. At this point in his life the speaker can still see the giant’s existence as a possibility and expect him to wake up. As the sun walks and sinks lower the child is aging and learning. His bright youth is beginning to be extinguished and the “school” he speaks of has the double meaning of a literal schoolhouse, as well as the knowledge that life brings with it.

The seasons, as well, serve to represent the lifespan from new births (spring) to endings/death (winter). The poem takes place during the summer, which is the speaker’s youth. As the sun begins to set on his life, autumn comes then winter settles in and “pulled a sheet over my head.” This line can symbolize the wisdom and knowledge that comes with aging which removes the once vivid imagination a child possesses. With each passing year the reality of the giant grows dimmer until it is no longer a plausible occurrence for the speaker. At the same time the sheet over his head also represents the end of his life where all possibility of thinking and imagining is permanently cut off along with his existence.

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