Though struck by its vivid imagery, readers of “Our Daily Bread” are often uncertain about its story and message. This imagery conveys a strong sense of existential guilt as well as a desire for redemption and social justice. The context of the poem becomes clearer as the reader progresses through its five irregular stanzas, the later stanzas clarifying the earlier ones. The importance of context in establishing the poem’s meaning contributes to the nonlinear nature of the poem and is consistent with its overall message that human communion, that which overcomes the existential despair of the individual, is possible only if the divisiveness that categorizes language and thought is surpassed.
The poem conveys the notion of the poet facing the dawn of a new day, and yet the earth is “sad” and the poet, in his guilt, is asking for absolution. It begins with the vague third-person reflexive tense (“One drinks”) to describe one drinking one’s breakfast—probably just coffee—on a somber, cold morning. References to morning throughout the poem include “breakfast,” “damp,” the “morning eye” that still sleeps, the speaker “drinking this coffee,” and lastly, the title of the poem and the request in the third stanza, both of which refer to the request in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us our daily bread.”
The dreariness of the new day is established with the words “damp,” “winter,” “mordant,”...
(The entire section is 539 words.)