Early in the Morning Questions and Answers
by Li-Young Lee

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What are some visual ideas that I can use to effectively connect to the tone/mood/meaning of the poem "Early in the Morning" by Lee? I need to come up with some art visuals that I can use in a collage that helps to connect to the tone/mood/meaning of the poem, without making the translation literal. I've already come up with the idea of a clock to show the setting of the poem. * The visual has to go with the theme of "ritual."

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What a fascinating question! I like your idea of the clock. You might like to also think about the context of the poem and use that to give you some ideas. Clearly, this poem is a memory of the adult poet looking back at his childhood and recording a family ritual--in this case, the brushing of his mother's hair and his father's feelings about it. You might like to think about the kind of rituals that your parents or family has and their importance to your family life. Another thing to consider is that the poet is depicted as an observer on what is shown to be a curiously intimate ritual that has a lot of meaning to his parents. What visual images might capture the way the poet is included and yet excluded from the intimacy created by this ritual between his mother and father? In a sense, the role of the speaker in this poem is to observe and learn from his parents. What does the speaker learn?

Lastly, you might do well to consider the complex relationship that the poet explores through his work with his father. Many critics argue that Lee's poetry is an attempt to come to terms with his memory. He was a very strict, authoritarian man, yet he could be tender as is demonstrated in this poem. How could you capture the ambiguous character of the father visually?

Above all, this poem reflects the way in which even the most simplest of actions can be transformed into possessing almost mystical significance:

She sits at the foot of the bed.

My father watches, listens for

the music of comb

against hair.

Lee explores this ritual and shows how it demonstrates the deep, profound love of his parents. What do the rituals you are thinking of show?

Lots of questions, but I hope they help you to think through this excellent poem! Good luck!

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