What symbolism in "Anecdote of the Jar" portrays the relationship between humanity and nature?

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cathibee | College Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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In the poem “Anecdote of the Jar,” a particular relationship between humanity and nature is described by means of the symbolism entailed in the jar and the state of Tennessee.

The poet begins by stating that he “…placed a jar in Tennessee” (line 1). This line contains the central focus of the poem.

The jar stands for human order and the drive to arrange things according to a pattern. Tennessee, on the other hand, is impossibly large in comparison to the jar.  In the same way, nature can be seen as an unfathomable force, much larger than humanity, which humanity nonetheless feels must be overruled and ordered.

To the human mind, the “wilderness” mentioned in the poem is not only wild, it is also “slovenly.”  The jar, on the other hand, creates a sense of order within the impossible wilderness.  It orders the hill and nature surrounding the hill.  It creates neat patterns within a sense of disordered chaos.

Another aspect of this order is the poet’s use of the words “gray and bare” (line 10) to represent the human order.  It is predictable and uninteresting, like a gray, bare jar.  Nature, on the other hand, provides life and sustenance.

The central theme of the poem is therefore the human tendency to rule by means of order and tidiness. However, the price is the beauty and wildness that might be found in nature.

 

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