Need help paraphrasing and understanding "Gathering" by Margaret Atwood.
Poem in description below.
1 The people you know are growing older.
A great unseen thumb is pushing
gently and relentlessly down on the tops of their heads
and they spread sideways.
5 They whiten, like raw wood in a salt wind.
Their eyes are no longer surprised and guilefree
blue pools, translucent,
but small and knowledgeable
10 and shiny as the backs of beetles,
or else those hard black berries
you find still clutching the vines
just before frost.
Walking into a gathering of them
15 you think: cyanide. You think: webs.
Or else you think
you are in a roomful of gnomework,
of those who were once your friends, transformed
by some clear scentless power
20 to these puckered dreamhouse versions.
What happened to the meadows?
No one is ever used to this,
to the nets, to all the clocks,
the veins like cracks in porcelain.
25 How were they lost?
What can you say
to help them? Why
are there suddenly so few?
Their smiles are kodak shadows,
30 the door is locking,
and whatever they ate or did
to get this way
is about to happen to you.
1 Answer | Add Yours
The poem uses many images to describe the ways in which people physically change as they get older.
People frequently become shorter with age, which the poem says happens because "A great unseen thumb is pushing gently and relentlessly down on the tops of their heads." At the same time, the people who are getting older are also getting heavier, "spreading sideways." Changing from the varied colors of hair and complexion of youth, the older people "whiten" and "silver." The speaker in the poem goes on to describe eyes that are wisened and hardened and surrounded by wrinkles and cracks.
The speaker sympathizes with the person being addressed, who is observing these older people and trying to understand what has happened, how these people once known as young persons have aged and changed as a result of passing time. "What happened to the meadows?...How were they lost?"
The speaker ends the poem by warning the listener that "whatever they ate or did to get this way is about to happen to you." The listener is not immune - the aging process and all the changes it brings are going to come to the listener as well as the friends s/he is observing.
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