N. Scott Momaday

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Please explain the implications of the last line of N. Scott Momaday's poem, "Simile."

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Jay Gilbert, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This poem is in its entirety, as the title suggests, a simile: the speaker is questioning what it was that he and the subject of the poem said to each other "that we are now as the deer." He compares himself and the poem's subject to deer walking "in single file"—which seems to suggest that the two are not in sync with each other—and "watchful," with ears turned forward, as if constantly wary of everything that is going on around them. The subject and the speaker, like the deer, are careful always to tread on what they know to be firm ground: we can assume that whatever was said between the two, it has made them fearful of misstepping, and perhaps afraid that everything they say may be potentially the wrong thing.

The final line of the poem, then, is simply a reinforcement of what has been implied before. In the limbs of the speaker and the subject, as in the limbs of the wary deer to which they are compared, there is "latent flight." This indicates that there is a tension coiled within their bodies, as if poised to run. The two have said something to each other which has changed everything about the way they relate to each other and rendered them uncertain of where to step and wary of having to flee at any moment.

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This excellent poem doesn't actually tell us what the event was that produced such a notable alteration in the behaviour between the speaker and the person the poem is addressed to. However, from the central simile that governs the poem, we can infer that some kind of argument has occurred between the two characters, which has now meant that there is a distance between them and a wary sense of impending danger. The speaker describes both himself and his audience as being like "the deer" who know are very careful and tense, ready for any sign of danger and always ready to flee:

who walk in single file

with heads high

with ears forward

with eyes watchful

with hooves always placed on firm ground

in whose limbs there is latent flight.

The last line of this poem is particularly powerful, as your question suggests, by the reference to "latent flight." The speaker deliberately chooses this image to end his poem, expressing the constant readiness that both he and his audience now have to flee any sign of impending danger or threat. Presumably we can infer that after some kind of argument, this couple has now lost all sense of ease and expect some kind of renewal of anger or frustration, which they are constantly ready for. The simile, reinforced by the last line, presents them as being very skittish and ready to fly when necessary. All sense of trust has been lost.

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