In the poem titled "The Blue Bowl," by Jane Kenyon, what is the significance of the symbolism used?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The language of Jane Kenyon’s poem titled “The Blue Bowl” can be interpreted as symbolic in a number of different ways, including the following:

  • The dead cat can be seen as a symbol of the death of any beloved person or thing.
  • The fact that that cat’s grave must be dug (and/or filled in) with the cat’s own bowl can be seen as symbolizing the irony of death – the fact that it can come at “inappropriate” times and must simply be coped with in whatever ways possible, even if those ways may seem crude and may have to be improvised.
  • The fact that the bowl is “blue” (rather than some lighter, brighter, more “pleasant” color, such as yellow) may symbolize the depressing situation the poem describes.
  • The beauty of the cat may symbolize the fact that death spares nothing and no one; the dirt, symbolizing the irreversible nature of death, falls into the grave

. . . with a hiss  
and thud on his side,
on his long red fur, the white feathers
between his toes, and his
long, not to say aquiline, nose. (5-9)

The loving detail with which the speaker remembers the last image of the cat may symbolize our reluctance to yield a beloved thing or person to death without paying proper tribute, if only the tribute of memory.

  • Lines 10-11 may symbolize the common human need to get back to the normal routines of daily life, even when those routines have been interrupted by death.
  • Line 11, in particular, may symbolize the effort to be “realistic” when we are faced with irreversible losses.
  • Lines 12-13 may symbolize the return to routine, but a return that is still strained and uncomfortable.
  • The storm mentioned in line 13 may symbolize the unsettled feelings of the characters the poem presents.
  • The clearing of the storm in line 14 may symbolize the return to normality.
  • The final symbolism of the singing robin almost interprets itself thanks to the simile in lines 16-17:

. . . a robin
burbles from a dripping bush
like the neighbor who means well
but always says the wrong thing.  (14-17; emphasis added)


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