In my English class, we're having a figurative language assessment. The teachers choose poems or paragraphs from books that has similies, metaphors, or personifications. We are to define those...

In my English class, we're having a figurative language assessment. The teachers choose poems or paragraphs from books that has similies, metaphors, or personifications. We are to define those figurative languages and explain them from a deeper point of view. 

This time though, I am really stuck because the chosen poem is really hard to understand! I would like some help with some of the lines.


his mind removed as the gossipy swallows
that pick and roll, that give and go
down the school chimney like smoke in reverse

What I know: The swallows are being compared to smoke.

My question: How is the "smoke in reverse" important? What does "his mind removed as the gossipy swallows" have anything to do with swallows/smoke?

My comment: My teacher says that back in the days when she was still in school, the swallows would fly down their school chimneys, but I don't see how that would help me.



from foul line, corner, left of the key,
the jealous rim guarding its fickle net
as he shoots, rebounds, dribbles, shoots,

What I know: The basket rim is "jealous," acting like a human, so it's a personification.

My question: How does this tie to the sounds? Is the rim jealous because the player always makes a shot? 

My comment: I am trying to find a connection between the jealous rim to the sounds being made/described. 


For the last part of the assessment, we have to connect the two examples and make a thesis. I can do the thesis later when I know the deeper meanings of the two examples. I would like help on my two examples if anyone is willing to give their time to reply to this. I know I am asking too much, but it's just this one poem that I don't understand or can't put into words.

Thank you so much! I would love to hear everyone's opinions.

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Expert Answers
mscw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hi and thanks for your great question. You have clearly understood some aspects of figurative language well. I love this poem because it reminds me of long afternoons throwing a ball against a brick wall. Thank you for attaching the poem to help me.

I am sure you have understood the main message of the poem - that this young man (or boy) is completely absorbed in his basketball practice at dusk. The poet uses rhythm, punctuation, similes and personificationto show the young man's detachment from the world around him until, in the final stanza, he is completely invisible.

The first example you have asked about is, as you have correctly shown, a simile. The most important simile, however, is "as removed as the gossipy swallows" - his mind is not connected to his automatic actions because he is

"lost in the perfectly thoughtless motion of shot, rebound, dribble, shot,"

The second part of the stanza compares the swallows flitting to "smoke in reverse", as they "give and go" (alliterationto show the swallows flowing togther) down the school's chimney (smoke goes up, therefore this is an effective simile to describe the swallows' quick and fluttery motion).

Your second example is indeed personification - the rim jealously guards its net, thus preventing a successful shot. I would argue that the sound implied is the sound of the ball bouncing off the rim, but the onomatopoeia of "shoots, rebounds, dribbles, shoots" is the sound created by the poet.  

As in your first example, I would break the stanza into those two parts - the jealous rim clashing with the young man's ball and the steady rhythm of basketball practice.

Give clear explanations of your understanding of the figurative language and then explain what you think the poet wants the reader to imagine, see or believe.

To create a thesis about how these two are connected, try to focus on how disconnected the young man is from the rest of the world and how much he is focused on his basketball practice. (The similes in your first example show his automatic actions, detached from conscious thought, and the personification in the second example show his close connection to his practice).

Good luck with your assessment task!