The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“All Bread” is a short poem in free verse, comprising four stanzas of uneven length. The poem’s central premise is the interdependence of humans and the earth and the cyclical rhythms of that relationship. A parallel interdependence between males and females is also implicit in this premise. Bread is the archetypal product of the earth, both the “staff of life” and an element of sacrifice and sacrament. The mundane yet important ritual of making and consuming bread shapes the poem and provides its central metaphor.

The poem’s four stanzas trace the stages in the bread-making process, moving from field to kitchen to consumption, from drudgery to communion. Stanza 1 describes the growing grain which comprises all the elements of earth, vegetable and animal, living and dead. Humans plant and harvest the grain; they assemble the wood and water necessary to mill and cook it; the cook shapes it into loaves. Stanza 2 describes the baking process, evoking the moist heat and the aroma that gives bread-making its appeal. Stanza 3 defines bread’s taste on the individual’s tongue; and stanza 4 invokes perhaps the most meaningful part of the bread-making process: sharing bread.

The poem is written in the first person. Its tone is personal and intimate, as if a kitchen-table conversation were taking place while bread is being shared in a daily family or neighborly ritual. Stanza 4, though, takes on the cadence of a priest intoning the rites of Eucharist: “Together/ we eat this earth” is the benediction that closes the poem.