The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Four Good Things is a book-length narrative poem by California poet James McMichael. The poem is autobiographical, and McMichael makes no distinctions between himself and the speaker of the poem. The speaker describes, comments upon, and observes his world without being judgmental. By the poem’s end, he has reconciled himself to the role of the past in the present.

The poem begins in the late 1940’s and covers a period into the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. While the speaker states his age in the poem once, he eschews traditional chronology for a more loosely constructed sense of time. Each of Four Good Things’s sixteen stanzas describes an episode in the speaker’s life from childhood through early adulthood. The first ten stanzas depict his boyhood and college years. He writes about his care provider, Florence, his father’s career as a real estate agent in Pasadena, California, his mother’s cancer, and ultimately, his father’s death. He also describes his father’s second marriage to Lucille and his adolescence living with her and her family.

The eleventh stanza begins the second section of the poem, which describes how private lives in the nineteenth century were affected by industrialization. This section is set in rural England in the 1850’s and later. Stanza 12 is the turning point in the poem’s narrative. Here McMichael connects the American capitalism he knew as a boy with the industrial period in...

(The entire section is 573 words.)