Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Ruby Tells All” is a poem about coming to terms with the nature of life, deciding what matters in life, and dealing with the inevitability of death. Ruby believes that life is characterized by loss and change, and she believes that, in the end, some things matter “slightly” and some things do not. According to Ruby, people “lose everything that’s grand and foolish,” and everything “has its time.” Everything includes Ruby herself, who mentions that she feels “hollow for a little while” when she reads the obituaries in the newspaper and finds that someone younger than herself has died.

Ruby’s thoughts about the passage of time and about death and dying lead her to make assessments about what is important in life. For her, dying matters, pain matters, and being old matters, but men do not matter. Indeed, Ruby believes that men have limited natures and that they live by negatives such as “don’t give up,/ don’t be a coward, don’t call me a liar,/ don’t ever tell me don’t.” She assumes that her daughter has learned these lessons about life and men, and at the conclusion of the poem she lists some of the other life lessons she might offer her daughter. Indeed, her thoughts about her lost daughter are evidence of her desire to stay connected with the human community as long as possible given the inevitability of death.