How does the imagery in "Oranges" enhance the theme of the poem?

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This beautiful poem enacts perfectly the tender yet awkward feelings that accompany first love in teenagers. The imagery creates a two contrasting elements in this poem: the cold setting that mirrors the awkwardness and potential embarrassment of the speaker, and the warmth that is linked to the oranges and the light in the poem, which can be seen to suggest the power and intensity of first love.

The coldness is expressed through a number of different images: "Frost cracking / Beneath my steps" and "Fog hanging like old / Coats between the trees" are just two examples. Both serve to highlight the tense emotions the boy is experiencing, as he goes to meet his girl fearing rejection and what might happen. However, contrasted with the cold and with the dark, grey and white, the bright, vibrant colour of the orange is the poem's most powerful image, as indicated in the last few lines of the poem:

I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

The comparison of the orange to fire serves to emphasise the power and strength of first love, and there is a pleasing symmetry to the way that the feelings experienced by the speaker are compared to fire in such cold surroundings: love gives humans the ability to shrug off coldness and other hardships and to feel truly alive. The use of imagery in this poem thus helps to capture the anxiety of a teenage boy and his feelings of rapture when his love is reciprocated.