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.)