The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Written in the first person, “King Saul and I” is a poem of fifty-five lines divided into three sections. As the title suggests, the poem is based on a comparison of the lives of the legendary King Saul and the author. The tone of the poem indicates that the poet is speaking directly to the reader, undisguised, in the classic tradition of lyric poetry.

Section 1 has three stanzas. The first stanza emphasizes the difference between king and poet in the opening two lines: “They gave him a finger, but he took the whole hand.” By contrast, the poet has been offered “the whole hand” but did not “even take the little finger.” This is followed by a reference to King Saul’s “tearing of oxen,” which refers to the king’s action when he needed to raise an army to defend the Israelites against the Ammonites. He cut up a yoke of oxen and sent the pieces throughout Israel, threatening to do the same to the oxen of the men who would not join him. The second stanza has four lines which again emphasize the difference: The poet’s pulse was like “drips from a tap”; the king’s, like hammers pounding. The third stanza states the relationship between the two in a slightly different way. “He was my big brother,” the poet says, and in a homey, familiar image, adds that he got the king’s used clothes.

King Saul is the subject of the second section. The first two-line stanza is a simile, comparing the king’s head to a compass...

(The entire section is 514 words.)