The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“A Cut Flower” is a poem of twenty-seven lines divided into three nine-line stanzas with no apparent rhyme scheme. Most of the lines fall into regular iambic pentameter, which means that each line has ten syllables, with five stresses, or accents, and the stress is on the second syllable in each metrical unit of two syllables. This meter is considered to mirror the natural rhythms of English speech most closely, and it contributes to the illusion that the poem is spoken testimony. Several of the lines deviate from this strict meter, which prevents the pattern from becoming monotonous and obtrusive.

From the first word, “I,” it is clear that the poem is written in the first person, and by the second line it is apparent that it is not the poet speaking, but the flower itself. At the beginning of the poem the flower is growing in the ground. The first four lines speak of the freshness and beauty of the flower, qualities that attract bees who “sack my throat for kisses and suck love.” The remainder of the first stanza hints that all is not well. The wind causes the flower to bend, because it is sick from lack of water and longs for rain.

The second stanza begins with a description of the creature who takes care of the flower, posed in the form of a question. The reader knows that it is a woman, and she seems to inspire love and awe with her tender acts of loosening the soil and touching the flower. The flower speculates on the origins...

(The entire section is 474 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“A Cut Flower” is a conceit, a type of intricate metaphor in which the spiritual qualities of the described subject are presented in a vehicle that shares no physical features with the subject. The vehicle in this case is the flower that wonders, questions, and tries to make sense of what he sees happening around and to him. In the first stanza, when the flower speaks of its own physical attributes, the reader accepts the idea of a talking flower, an example of the poetic device, personification. Yet by the second stanza, when the flower questions the identity of his caretaker and wonders where she comes from and where she goes, the reader understands that the poem is not about a flower. The subject is really a person who describes what is happening to him through the vehicle of the flower.

This realization that the poem is not about a flower is part of the irony used to heighten the effect of the poem. The title suggests a poem about a flower, yet a surprise occurs when it becomes apparent that the cut flower is not the true subject. Other ironies unfold. The flower wonders what kind of an animal the creature who tends him is, whereas the reader knows immediately that she is a woman tending her flower bed. The “thing sharper than frost” is recognized as scissors or garden shears, and the reader understands what is happening although the flower does not. Another irony is that the flower longs for angry rain that “bites like cold and hurts” in the first stanza,...

(The entire section is 608 words.)