The Night of the Iguana

by Tennessee Williams

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What is the importance of the poem that's written during Night of the Iguana?

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Nonno's poem is significant on several levels. First, the elderly poet has finally completed a new work. He dies, apparently content after doing so.

Second, Nonno has few lines in the play and largely functions as Hannah's charge. Caring for her grandfather as they travel gives her life some purpose. In another sense, however, he holds her back. Nonno seems to hear what the others say, so he is somewhat aware of Hannah's and Shannon's conversations.

In the latter regard, the poem's content is also significant. It is about observing in contrast to doing, hope versus despair, and about second chances. Everyone in the play is at the end of their rope in some regard. Shannon is a wreck of a man, Hannah has few options, and Nonno is at the end of his life. The poem's meaning largely parallels that of the play. Nonno is Hannah's rope, and his death frees her. Shannon is his own worst enemy, who needs a new lease on life; he literally gets tied up. While Hannah' compassion saves him, he in turns shows compassion to the iguana, which represents his second chance- the "second place to dwell... in the frightened heart."

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The play ends with Jonathan Coffin, Hannah's elderly grandfather or "nonno", completing one last poem before he dies. The last two stanzas are: 

And still the ripe fruit and the branch
Observe the sky begin to blanch
Without a cry, without a prayer,
With no betrayal of despair.

Oh, Courage, could you not as well
Select a second  place to dwell,
Not only in that golden tree
But in the frightened heart of me?

At ninety-two years old, the poem is a breakthrough for Coffin, who has not been able to write for some time. In a way, it sums up his life, which has been haunted by fear.

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