Li-Young Lee

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What are three literary elements used in "The Gift" by Li-Young Lee?

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The poet uses metaphors and direct address in this poem. He also uses personification to bring the reader into the story.

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The poet uses several metaphors in this poem. One is as follows: "But [I] hear his voice still, a well of dark water, a prayer." In this metaphor, the poet compares his father's voice to a well of water and to a prayer, suggesting that his father's voice has deep reserves that perhaps the boy does not understand. 

The poet also uses direct address or speaking directly to the reader. The poet writes, "Had you entered that afternoon you would have thought you saw a man planting something in a boy’s palm." The poet presumes to know what the reader might have thought when the poet's father removed a sliver from the poet's palm. 

In the final stanza, the poet uses personification. He writes that he did not cry "Death visited here!" when his father pulled the sliver. In this sentence, death becomes an animate character. The poet also says that he does not refer to the metal sliver as a "Little Assassin." This functions as another example of personification. In this example an inanimate object has the ability to be an assassin. 

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In this poem one of Lee's most famous, Lee remembers the experience of being a boy and his father pulling out a metal splinter that he had managed to get stuck in his palm. Lee remembers this memory as he pulls out a splinter from his wife's palm and also as he reflects on his relationship with his father and how a big part of who he is today is a result of this loving relationship with him.

What stands out in terms of literary elements is Lee's use of metaphor to describe his father and his relationship with his son. Note how in the second stanza, the speaker describes his father's voice to "a well / of dark water, a prayer." This serves to describe the enchanting and alluring sound of his father's voice as he distracted his son from the pain that he was experiencing and took out the splinter. It also makes the father sound mysterious and intriguing as his voice clearly makes Lee think of other things successfully. Lee also describes his father's hands as "two measures of tenderness," which serves to highlight the genuine love and respect he experienced from his father. Comparing them in this way suggests that the hands of his father were the prime way in which his father expressed his love and affection for his son, and therefore become approprite transmitters of the "tenderness" that characterised their relationship. However, as if to counter claims that his relationship with his father was nothing more than loving, Lee is also careful to refer to the "flames of discipline" that his father built around Lee in his childhood. Lee is clear that not only was his relationship with his father characterised by love and tenderness, but that also appropriate boundaries were drawn, and he grew up in an atmosphere of discipline and responsibility. Comparing discipline to flames in this quote signifies the potential harm and rigour of such a childhood, which is loving, but fair. The impression the reader is left with as a result of these examples of literary elements is a very deep and profound relationship that Lee looks back on now as an adult and is profoundly thankful for. He sees it, after all, as a "gift."

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