What is the meaning of Margaret Atwood's poem "All Bread"?

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"All Bread" is a poem that describes the human relationship with plants and how humans are influenced by them. The poem uses the metaphor of bread to describe the cycle of life.

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"All Bread" examines the interdependent relationships that humans have with each other as well as with nature. The poem is generally also read as a commentary on the interdependent relationships between men and women. Atwood traces the stages of bread making and consumption from the growth and harvesting of grain, to the baking of bread, to the taste an individual experiences, and finally to the way in which bread functions as part of community—both in the Christian ritual of the Eucharist (in which worshipers share bread together) and in the more general social experience of eating bread together, which Atwood treats as a social rite.

The poem suggests how humans nurture plants and how in turn plants nurture us. "All Bread" is a reflection on the communal and cyclical nature of life: plants are grown from soil, those plants nourish humans through the food we make and share together, and eventually humans die and decompose into nutrients which feed the soil.

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What is a metaphor in the first paragraph of Atwood's "All Bread"?

One metaphor found in the first stanza of Margaret Atwood's poem "All Bread" is the following, which opens the poem:

All bread is made of wood,
Cow dung, packed brown moss,
The bodies of dead animals, the teeth
And backbones, what is left
After the ravens.

The poem in its entirety describes the process of making bread in four stanzas. The first describes the wheat growing in the dirt; the second focuses on the process of baking bread; the third imagines someone eating the bread after a long day of physical labor. The poem concludes by claiming that eating bread is eating the earth, and bread is meant to be shared. Overall, the bread could be interpreted as a metaphor for love and family because it is described as mundane and ritualized, yet it is crucially important that it is shared. By this interpretation, the dirt in the first paragraph could be a metaphor for how love is created and sustained by the earth, like the various substances in the dirt like cow dung, moss, and rotting animal remains all work to grow wheat.

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