What is the theme in Li-Young Lee's poem, "Persimmons," and what elements support that theme?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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From the verbal confusion that is mentioned in the first stanza as the youthful poet confuses precision and persimmon, the theme of communication and how we communicate is established. Clearly, for a poet, words are vitally important in this process of communicatino, but the poet himself learned through this childhood experience that words can be very ambiguous and imprecise, particularly when they are not accompanied by love. Mrs. Walker, with her lack of patience and her quick judgement, shows how words can actually be used to communicate more confusion than clarity, which is highlighted when Mrs. Walker refers to a "Chinese apple" rather than a persimmon, yet remains unaware that it is not ripe.

Yet with love, words can be used to communicate effectively, as is conveyed through the experience when the speaker makes love to his wife in the yard. Even though he has forgotten some Chinese words, this is unimportant, because he remebers to tell her "she is as beautiful as the moon." In an environment of love and respect (that stands out in contrast to Mrs. Walker and her relationship with the child that the poet once was), such imprecision of language becomes unimportant. Communication is shown to be made perfect through love, and miscommunication the obvious product of love's absence. As the poem ends with the experience of the poet's blind father, who can still paint persimmons, even if he can't see them, persimmons seem to stand for communicated experiences that never leave us:

Some things never leave a person:

scent of the har of one you love,

the texture of persimmons,

in your palm, the ripe weight.


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