Regarding “A Holiday” by Margaret Atwood, could someone help me with the analysis of this poem?A Holiday My child in the smoke of the fire playing at barbarism, the burst meat dripping down her...

Regarding “A Holiday” by Margaret Atwood, could someone help me with the analysis of this poem?

A Holiday

My child in the smoke of the fire
playing at barbarism,
the burst meat dripping down her
chin, soot smearing
her cheek and her hair infested with twigs,
under a midsummer-leafed tree
in the rain, the shelter
of poles and canvas down
the road if needed:

This could be where we
end up, learning the minimal
with maybe no tree, no rain,
no shelter, no roast carcasses
of animals to renew us

at a time when language
will shrink to the word hunger
and the word none.

Mist lifts from the warm lake
hit by the cold drizzle:
too much dust in the stratosphere
this year, they say. Unseasonal.

Here comes the ice,
here comes something,
we can all feel it
like a breath, a footstep,
here comes nothing
with its calm eye of fire.

What we're having right
now is a cookout,
sausages on peeled sticks.
The blades of grass are still with us. My daughter forages,
grace plumps the dusty berries,
two or three hot and squashed in her fist.

So far we do it
for fun. So far is
where we've gone
and no farther.

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kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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A poetry analysis is a far more extensive task than can be done on eNotes, but I can help get you started in the right direction. Poetry analysis includes identifying poetic elements like structure, theme, tone, mood, poetic speaker, and genre (lyric, dramatic monologue etc). It also includes identifying poetic techniques like figurative language (metaphor, simile, personification etc), imagery, and symbolism.

To start with, this poem is structured free verse. It has no rhyming but is broken into paragraphs for visual and thematic effect. There is no set meter (like iambic pentameter: five feet of iambs ('/)) though there is an overriding cadence that feels rhythmic. Capitalization is inconsistent and punctuation is sparse, with most lines having enjambment (no line-end punctuation).

The theme is expressed in the second and third paragraphs: "This could be where we / end up, / [...] / at a time when language / will shrink to the word hunger."

This could be where we
end up, learning the minimal
with maybe no tree, no rain,
no shelter, no roast carcasses
of animals to renew us

at a time when language
will shrink to the word hunger
and the word none.

The underlying metaphor the poem is built upon is the comparison between the daughter's fun on a frolicking outing and the mother's somber contemplation of the state of the world: "here comes nothing / with its calm eye of fire."

There is a great deal of sensory imagery (sensory: relating to the five senses; what is seen, heard, tasted, touched, smelled). The daughter and picnic food are describe with lively sensory detail, like "plumps the dusty berries" and "her hair infested with twigs."

The "smoke of the fire" seems to be symbolic of post-World War II fears of atomic warfare and bombs or civil unrest (Atwood was born in 1939 and was a young adult during the 1950s Red Scare and 1960s US civil rights riots). Her children "playing at barbarism" seem to be symbolic of the behavior of world leaders bringing down upon her head the threats she fears.

Sources:

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