The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Gift” is a twenty-eight-line poem written in free verse. Under the title, Jean Burden dedicates the poem “for Cristy.” Writing in the first person, Burden reveals the nature of the gift in the first two lines: “You gave me the socks/ off your feet.” Possessing a wry wit, Burden parodies the expression “the shirt off your back” with these opening lines. Although Cristy’s age and relationship to the poet are never precisely identified, it seems clear that Cristy is much younger than Burden and that they must be very close friends. In reality, Cristy was a young woman in her twenties and nearly forty years younger than the poet at the time of the poem’s writing. Written in 1976, “The Gift” is one of a number of poems that Burden composed while staying at the MacDowell Colony, a colony for artists located in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

The socks, “dark blue, striped in red and white,/ with embroidered clocks of cats,” are given to the poet in a restaurant. Cristy states matter-of-factly, “ ‘Of course you must have them.’ ” The waitress in the poem is startled by the sight of Cristy removing her socks; “Demure/ in Japanese kimono,” she “almost spilled the tea” when Cristy strips “to pink toes.” After being given the colorful socks, Burden says, she placed them “in a napkin/ and stuffed them in my Gucci bag.” She and Cristy then left the restaurant and “squeaked up Park Avenue.” With the...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In numerous other poems Burden has shown herself to be adept at using common speech in original ways. In “The Gift” the poet addresses the reader in a direct manner rather than employing a persona to express some experience that is not her own. What transpires in the poem is Burden’s own experience. Cristy is a real person, and she did give the poet her socks in a New York restaurant. Although “The Gift” is written in free verse, there is nonetheless a subtle lyrical rhythm in the poem. The lines of the poem are condensed. Burden is a master of the delicate observation, of creating a well-modulated poem through spare and understated images. Without relying on cliché or worn-out phrases, she uses common language to create fresh images. Although Robert Frost once described writing free verse as “playing tennis without a net,” there is a need for discipline in free verse just as there is in any other poetic form. Burden uses precise language to convey sights and sounds. One of the sound devices that Burden employs is alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds of words that are in close proximity. In “The Gift” there are s sounds with such words as “socks,” “striped,” “staid,” “stripping,” “spilled,” “stuffed,” “squeaked,” “said,” and “stone.” While in untrained hands alliteration can be over used and thus awkward or ponderous, Burden drops in the appropriate sound precisely where needed.


(The entire section is 414 words.)