What effect does the figurative language have in Al Pittman's poem "Cooks Brook"?

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"Cooks Brook" by Al Pittman uses figurative language both literally and to reinforce the coming-of-age theme of overcoming challenges, both internal and external.

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In terms of figurative language, such as simile and metaphor, this poem does not rely heavily on individual pieces of figurative language. It is literally a poem about diving into a rock pool; most of the figurative element comes in when we consider the poem as a whole.

There is one continued metaphor in the poem: when the speaker renders the image of the rock pool, they refer to the water opening like a “wound,” and that when you sink below the surface of the water it closes “in a white scar.” This language emphasizes the danger of the action and reinforces the previous stanza’s reference to dying “skull smashed.”

The action in the poem is, overall, a metaphor for growing up; the risks we take when we do so, and the way we feel like we should hide our emotions and fears when we become adults. The dive not being difficult except for the one dangerous rock shelf is an allusion to the risks we take when we have something to prove, and how everything we do has inherent hazards which we need to consider. The speaker tells us it is better to dive into the water and smash your skull than climb back down; this is an allusion to another risk in life—social ridicule and shame. Especially for masculinity, pretending not to be afraid of an obvious danger is a common theme in coming-of-age stories like this one.

The final stanza refers to how the speaker feels and acts after they have jumped into the pool. The speaker is “surprised” to be alive and surfaces from the dark water, “gasping.” Despite this fear and surprise, they then “leisurely” swim back to shore, feigning nonchalance despite having just “daringly defied the demons / who lived so terribly / in the haunted hours of your sleep.” This is an allusion to the idea that when we grow up, we need to develop an external face to show the world and to pretend that we aren’t afraid. The poem is reinforcing that the fear (and danger) will always be there, but that we just become more practiced at facing it and covering it up.

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