Analyze the poem "Work Boots: Still Life" by Jim Daniels.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Jim Daniels, an American poet, represents the "blue-collar" worker in his writing.  His poetry speaks to the common man who has to work hard each day to provide for his family.  Illustrating both good and bad aspects of the working class, most of his writing comes form his early life in Detroit.  Now, Daniels is a professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. One of this most famous poems is "Work Boots: Still Life."

The poem is written in free verse.  His language is deceptively simple, yet his use of literary comparisons and personification is quite clever.  The point of view is third person, using the dialect of the ordinary man.  His colloquial style conveys the identity of his subject to the reader which essentially makes his poem authentic.  The mood of the poem is matter of fact but with an overlaying respect for the wearer of the boots.

In the poem, a pair of work boots sits by the porch door.  His description of the boots represents the present and future hard work of the owner. Apparently, the work is difficult because the boots sit in the sun drying out probably from the wearer's sweat.  There is a tear in the toe of the boot so that the steal protector can be seen, promising safety for the user.  Sagging open, the boot signifies the exhaustion of the man.  The droopy laces, salty lines, and obtrusive top rip--these qualities embody the day to day exertion of the manual laborer.

The poet's description is like a still-life painting.  The working boots symbolize the daily grind of someone who works in a difficult job.  The figurative language includes similes and metaphors to illustrate this toil:

The laces droop like a sigh of someone too tired to speak

Salt lines map the leather

The shoe hangs open...A mouth that can almost breathe.

Daniels draws this picture of the boots so that the reader can glimpse the arduous work done while wearing them.  With high regard for the work ethic, the poet  knows that the boots and the man are not done.  One can almost see the image of the man rising early to get to his job and sitting on the porch steps lacing up his steel-toed work boots for the day's work.

The promise of steel and the years to come.

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