The Gift Themes (Jean Burden)

Jean Burden

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Although written in 1976, “The Gift” was not collected until 1992 with the publication of Burden’s second poetry collection, Taking Light from Each Other. Her first collection, Naked as the Glass, was published in 1963. Taking Light from Each Other is divided into five sections, and “The Gift” is included in the fourth section of the book. As with other poems of the section, it celebrates the value of interpersonal relationships with pointed observation and cunning wit. No matter how serious the topic, Burden never loses sight of the playful ordering of words. She approaches the favor that Cristy did for her without sentimentality. Although unorthodox, the giving of socks is a magnificent gesture of friendship. A true friend will make a sacrifice even in a public place where it could be awkward or embarrassing. While Cristy feels no qualms in giving up her socks, the poet puts them away in a bag. The reader has a sense that these are two unique individuals who express themselves in their own personal ways. Burden recognizes what has been done for her and regrets that she has not done more for her good and loyal friend.

The cost of the socks was forty-nine cents, almost nothing, but in comparison with a stone that was free, they were expensive. As Burden states, “Nothing comes out even.” Between friends and between lovers, good deeds cannot be balanced in a ledger. It is self-evident that people who are close will want to help each other when the need arises, and Burden uses one humorous incident to make this larger point. As with many of her poems in Taking Light from Each Other, Burden has written freshly, lovingly, humorously, and convincingly about the complexities of human relationships.