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What is the tone and mood of the poem "How To Eat a Poem"?

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d12come | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 18, 2010 at 6:14 PM via web

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What is the tone and mood of the poem "How To Eat a Poem"?

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robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted July 18, 2010 at 9:31 PM (Answer #1)

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Well, here's the poem. Let's find out:

Don't be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that
may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.

You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.

For there is no core
or stem
or rind
or pit
or seed
or skin
to throw away.

First of all, the whole poem is a metaphor - and not a serious or ominous one. A poem is imagined to be like a fruit which can be eaten. And it starts with an instruction that might be a clue to its tone and mood: 'Don't be polite'.

Merriam (the poet) doesn't want us to think of poetry as something refined, cultured, and polite - she wants to plunge in. There is a tremendous vivaciousness and energy about this idea. We have to 'Bite in' to the poem - metaphorically, to really get our teeth into it. So the tone is encouraging, iconoclastic (a word meaning to really reject traditions and find new ways), youthful, energetic and humorous.

To eat a poem, there is no need for a knife or fork or spoon or tablecloth - or any of the things which make eating more civilised. We are being allowed to eat with our hands: bad manners though it may be thought! There is something very open and permissive about the mood of the poem and its message that poetry is for everyone.

There's also a tremendous energy to that final list of things that are wasted when you eat a fruit:

....there is no core
or stem
or rind
or pit
or seed
or skin...

A fruit has waste products that we cannot eat; on the contrary, every single bit of a poem is juicy and edible. It's another thought that throws its arms open to poetry and to any reader - "It's all great stuff!" Merriam is saying, "Devour it! Throw nothing away!"

So, in conclusion - the tone of the poem is humorous, but with a serious purpose and a genuine passion and energy in delivering its key message: that poetry is not something polite, refined and wholly civilised, but messy, human, and open to everyone.

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