Last Updated on August 17, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 811
In "I Am Offering This Poem," Jimmy Santiago Baca writes about extending love to a person through the poem when its speaker has no material items to give. Throughout the piece, Baca uses figurative language to compare the poem and its repeated line, "I love you," to other things that bring love and comfort.
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The first stanza of the poem begins,
I am offering this poem to you,
since I have nothing else to give.
This stanza's first two lines include a sentiment that Baca will continue as the poem progresses: the speaker is writing the poem as an expression of love because he has "nothing else" to offer. The first stanza compares his poem to "a warm coat" through the use of a simile. When the figurative winter comes, meaning bad times or times when the beloved needs extra comfort, the poem will provide figurative warmth.
Like a coat, or like the socks mentioned in the first stanza's other simile, the speaker's poem—and, by extension, the love expressed in it—will protect the beloved. Interestingly, here and throughout the poem, the speaker compares his poem to material objects (though humble ones) that he apparently cannot afford as a way to show that his feelings toward the beloved will serve the same purpose those objects would. The straightforward repeated line, "I love you," then serves as a bridge connecting each stanza, with commas on both sides to maintain the link between each stanza's ideas.
Next, the speaker continues,
I have nothing else to give you,
so it is a pot full of yellow corn
to warm your belly in winter,
it is a scarf for your head, to wear
over your hair, to tie up around your face . . .
The speaker repeats that he is offering the poem in place of any material object or gift that he cannot give. The speaker here compares the poem to "a pot full of yellow corn," and not just any corn, but the kind that will "warm your belly in winter." This meal represents the comfort and nourishment that the speaker hopes his beloved will feel when reading this poem. Next, he compares the poem to a scarf through the use of metaphor. The poem figuratively covers the beloved's head to provide protection and, again, warmth.
In the third stanza, the speaker's syntax changes:
Keep it, treasure this as you would
if you were lost, needing direction,
in the wilderness life becomes when mature;
and in the corner of your drawer,
tucked away like a cabin or hogan
in dense trees, come knocking,
and I will answer, give you directions,
and let you warm yourself by this fire,
rest by this fire, and make you feel safe . . .
In contrast to previous stanzas, this stanza begins with a command to the beloved that tells them what to do with the poem instead of reminding them that he has nothing else to give. He urges the beloved to "Keep it," to "treasure" the poem. The poem and his love should serve as guidance to the beloved if they become "lost." Baca indicates that as people's lives progress, they may become more complex, and then the beloved will need to remember the speaker's affection. He describes himself, through the poem, being put aside—but still there when needed. He and his poem will again comfort the beloved: he describes himself and his words as "this fire" that the beloved can sit by to warm up and find security. Here, again, the phrase "I love you" bridges the third and fourth stanzas.
In the final stanza, the speaker reiterates,
It’s all I have to give,
and all anyone needs to live,
and to go on living inside,
when the world outside
no longer cares if you live or die . . .
To close the poem, the speaker once again states that he has nothing in terms of materials or possessions to give the beloved. However, he now strongly asserts that love, as expressed in his poem, is "all anyone needs to live." His gift, though maybe humble in terms of literal cost, is actually much more significant than an object could ever be. The speaker then sets up a contrast between the beloved's internal life and the outside world. The poem and the affection it expresses are required to survive in the face of an uncaring, selfish world.
Ultimately, the speaker's offering is the most valuable "thing" he could ever give his beloved. The poem ends with the expression "I love you," preceded by "remember." Again, the speaker uses the command form to urge, albeit gently and supportively, the beloved to keep his love in mind, and maybe even to return to these lines of poetry in order to endure obstacles that seem impossible to get through. What he offers his beloved is never-ending and unconditional support and love.