In the poem "The Old Woman's Message," where are the similes and what are their meanings? How do the similes contribute to the overall meaning of the poem and how do they relate to the rest of the...

In the poem "The Old Woman's Message," where are the similes and what are their meanings? How do the similes contribute to the overall meaning of the poem and how do they relate to the rest of the poem?

Expert Answers
rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This poem has several similes in which the poet compares one thing to another using the word "like." First, the old woman's sons are "like fruit borne by birds." The woman has just noted that ripe fruit, when it falls, falls near the trunk, figuratively its "mother." In the same way, she wishes her boys, now that they are "ripe" and grown up, would come to her side. However, her sons are not like that kind of fruit. They are like fruit that birds pick up and carry far from the tree. This represents how her sons have moved away from their childhood home.

Next, the old woman uses three similes to describe her condition, showing that she is very old and coming to the end of her life. She says her "hands are like broom sticks." This suggests they are bony and rough; they have lost the fleshiness of youth and middle age. She says she is "dry like a carved image." This suggests the dry, thin skin of old age and the weight loss that makes her seem hard rather than supple. She says, "I sway like a dry falling leaf." Elderly people often have balance issues, or their joints and muscles don't function as well, so when they walk, they totter or move from side to side. This image harks back to the beginning of the poem where the speaker mentions the fruit tree. But the picture of the dry falling leaf speaks of autumn and the end of life; falling leaves are dead leaves. 

The similes add emotion to the poem and emphasize the various meanings. Birds are often symbolic both of freedom and of impending doom; the fact that the birds have carried the fruit, that is, her sons, far away shows that they have gained their freedom, but that this is an unhappy reality for the old woman. The similes she uses to describe herself show she is frail and needy and are meant to arouse sympathy and pity, hopefully having the effect of bringing the old woman's sons quickly to her side.