Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Central to understanding much of Simic’s work is realizing his belief that poetry can be a way to think. By starting with the certainty of the physical, the poet moves into areas that are more uncertain, intangible, and transitory. Simic wants to emphasize that all one knows of the imaginative, intellectual, emotional, and even spiritual worlds is gained from observation of surrounding things. As this poem begins with the certain objects of a butcher’s shop and progresses into less tangible considerations, it may symbolize the poet’s wish for readers to proceed in the same manner, from the material things of this world into a place that provides less certainty but more insight into the things around them. Thus, on one level, this poem does not supply a meaning as much as invite the reader to create one out of the objects found within it. However, this approach does not mean that a poem by Simic can mean anything that anyone wants. The poet has sent the reader in a specific direction, and that direction has been influenced by the person who is already experiencing the butcher shop.

In a setting typical of much of Simic’s work, the speaker finds himself alone in a place that is dark and poorly lit. The scene retains an Old World atmosphere, one that is not often found in modern America. Part of the scene’s imagery may be attributed to Simic’s own childhood in Belgrade and Paris and his young adult life in the ethnic neighborhoods of New York City and Chicago. It also serves to summon a time before people selected their meat from rows of shrink-wrapped products in well-lit grocery aisles. In both time and condition, the scene calls to mind humans’ physical connection to the earth.

The poet’s mentioning that “I am fed” refers to metaphysical nourishment. In this way, the objects take on a metaphorical meaning. The single source of light provides the only light in the poet’s solitude. Because it is “Like the light in which the convict digs his tunnel,” Simic suggests that this small but sufficient light provides a hopeful exit from an...

(The entire section is 851 words.)