Student Question

What is the irony in the librarian's reaction to the speaker in "Eating Poetry"?

Quick answer:

In “Eating Poetry,” the irony of the librarian's reaction to the speaker is that she's sad to see someone devouring books when in reality, as a librarian, she should be sharing in the speaker's happiness.

Expert Answers

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If we take Mark Strand's “Eating Poetry” as an extended metaphor for the joys of reading, then we can certainly see the reaction of the librarian to the speaker's devouring of books in ironic terms.

One would think that a librarian would be pleased to see someone reading voraciously as a good thing, something that would make her happy. And yet, she's absolutely horrified at the sight of the speaker eating poetry. In the metaphorical sense, of course. With her sad eyes, she is unable to believe in what she sees, and that's not a good thing. Now that the poems have gone, have been consumed by the voracious speaker, she is utterly crestfallen and “begins to stamp her feet and weep.”

If taken on a literal level, then there's no real irony at all. The librarian's sadness and horror at seeing someone eat one of the many books in her care would represent a perfectly valid reaction. Indeed, one would like to think that most people, whether they are librarians or not, would react in the exact same way.

As it is, however, the metaphorical consumption of poetry elicits a reaction from the librarian that is not what we would expect from a true book-lover. And therein lies a great deal of irony.

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