What are some metaphors, symbols and images in Ed Reed's poem "The Key of the Kingdom?"

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ed Reed's poem "The Key of the Kingdom" captures the spirit and imagination inherent in the innocence and wonder of childhood.  His tale of children wandering aimlessley though the woods and meadows, their imaginations alive with images of unseen figures from the worlds of fantasy and fiction, is an ode to the carefree existence of a bygone era.  The title, and concept of the "The Key of the Kingdom" is itself a metaphor for that age of innocence, when imaginations run wild with images both wonderous and terrifying.  The phrase "key of the kingdom" could have been borrowed from the Biblical phrase in Matthew 16:19 ("I will give you the keys to the kingdom . . ."), but that is pure speculation.  In any event, Reed clearly employs the phrase in the context of summer vacations from school when children are free to explore:

When we were children
We possessed the key to a kingdom
Such as this world has yet to see.  Wherever we went;
By lakes,
And streams,
In woods,
and Fields,
There was world beyond belief
In which anything could be something else.

And, then: "Only children had the key."

"The Key of the Kingdom" is replete with metaphors, symbols and images, all seen through the imagination of children.  Some of the images, both terrifying ("goblins, ghosts and ghouls/Dragons, trolls, witches, sorcerers . . " ) and happy ("A World of enchanted geography -- Magic Forests,/Glass mountains/And fountains of youth.")

This last stanza, however, injects an element into the poem that surprises the reader: the suggestion, later confirmed, that the narrator is an adult reflecting on a lost youth, with images of the finality of human existence taking over:

Now that we're older.
And more mature
This kingdom no longer has our allegiance.
We have lost the key
And it has perished with the rust of misuse
And neglect.

Life can by in a glimpse.  The older one gets, the faster the years seem to go by, and we are left with regrets for that lost innocence of youth and for the promise our lives once held.  Reed uses the phrase "Age is the grave yard of all our youthful hopes, dreams and experiences" as a metaphore for this passage through life and the realization that we can't turn back the clock.

The images of the poem, both real (the natural beauty of the countryside: lakes, pools, streams, woods, meadows) and imagined (Knights, fair damsels, exploring with Marco Polo and defying savage Indians) dominate "The Key of the Kingdom," as do the symbols (castles made of T.V. boxes, shields taken from the tops of garbage cans).  Perhaps consistent with the Biblical reference to keys to the kingdom, Reed uses as a metaphor 'daring damnation' for the risks of removing bicycle training wheels that, along with the notion of "keys to the kingdom" provide the second metaphor, both, as noted, emanating from religious conviction.  

Adulthood, as "The Key of the Kingdom" implies, does not allow for the frivolity of childhood.  We get caught up in the matter of survival -- job, mortgage, family -- and lose sight of the wonders of youth.