Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1064
Muldoon begins “Pineapples and Pomegranates” as a personal anecdote or story by recalling the speaker’s first encounter with a pineapple, at the age of thirteen. The poet emphasizes the sense of touch in recalling this experience as he writes, “I would grapple / with my first pineapple.” These two lines establish the pattern of rhyming the last words of every two lines, as in the full rhyme of “grapple” with “pineapple.” Throughout the poem, Muldoon continues to use rhymed couplets, rhyming every two lines.
In the next two lines, the speaker further describes his memory of the pineapple, noting, “its exposed breast / setting itself as another test.” The metaphor in line 3 personifies the fruit by likening the pineapple to a female body part. By describing the pineapple in this way, Muldoon emphasizes the fruit’s exoticness and its seductive qualities. In these lines, Muldoon uses the exact end-rhyme of “breast” and “test.”
In lines 5 and 6, the idea of the pineapple as an object of temptation is further reinforced, as the speaker explicitly states that the pineapple is a test “of my willpower.” However, the speaker also notes that even then he knew “that it stood for something other than itself alone.” This quality of standing for something else seems to add to the pineapple’s mystery for the boy. This line also begins the speaker’s musings on things other than the pure memory of the pineapple.
In these two lines, the speaker claims that he had “absolutely no sense / of its being a worldwide symbol of munificence.” Muldoon overtly points out the pineapple’s function as a symbol of munificence, or generosity, while contrasting this adult awareness with his former naiveté. By using the word “symbol,” Muldoon also emphasizes the speaker’s position not only as an adult, but as a literary person and, presumably, a poet.
Notably, in line 8, Muldoon also finally concludes the sentence he began at the start of the poem. The length of this sentence creates a sense of fluidity, reflecting the speaker’s free associations from the initial recollection of an adolescent experience. In running the sentence across the first seven lines, Muldoon uses enjambment, rather than stopping sentences where the lines end. This long sentence also makes up the first eight lines of the poem, which form an octave. Traditional sonnets often begin with an octave that establishes a situation or question, which is then resolved, or answered, in the ensuing six lines, or sestet.
In line 9, Muldoon follows the long first sentence with a very short one: “Munificence—right?” The brevity of the sentence expresses the interruptive quality of this new thought, which departs from the speaker’s previous musings on the pineapple. The em dash and the question “right?” also introduce an element of doubt, as the speaker shifts from thinking about the pineapple to thinking about the word “munificence.” Muldoon follows this sentence with, “Not munitions, if you understand / where I’m coming from.”
The shift from “munificence” to “munitions” is striking, as the two words sound similar but convey radically different meanings. “Munitions” refers to armaments or weapons, particularly explosives such as bombs or grenades. By slipping from “munificence” to “munitions,” Muldoon subtly expresses how easily and quickly words and ideas can change from benevolence to violence. The end of the sentence reinforces this idea of the slippery slope to violence. The casual figure of speech “if you understand / where I’m coming from” also refers to the poet’s country of origin, Northern Ireland, a place marked by violent conflict. Muldoon’s adolescence during the 1960s was marked by the beginning of increased civil strife in Northern Ireland, known as the Troubles.
From the end of line 10 through line 13, the speaker expresses a desire for peace as he continues to muse on the meanings of the words “munificence” and “munitions”: “As if the open hand / might, for once, put paid / to the hand grenade / in one corner of the planet.” The act of munificence or generosity is expressed by the metaphor of the extended open hand, which the speaker wishes would put to rest the munitions represented by the hand grenade. In addition to using end-rhyme again in lines 11 and 12, Muldoon also repeats the word “hand” in these lines. By repeating the word in different contexts, “open hand” and “hand grenade,” the poet again emphasizes how easily a shift from munificence to munitions (and back) can occur.
The phrase “in one corner of the planet” highlights the fact that violent conflict is a worldwide phenomenon. Muldoon dedicated the poem to the memory of Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. In addition to strife in Northern Ireland, Muldoon is likely referring to Amichai’s home of Israel, another site of continual conflict, where permanent peace has remained elusive.
Muldoon concludes the poem with one end-stopped sentence: “I’m talking about pineapples—right?—not pomegranates.” In this line, the poet again invokes a shift from one word to another similar-sounding word, “pineapples” to “pomegranates.” Although the words sound similar, the symbolic meanings of the two fruits contrast sharply. The poet has already stated that pineapples are a symbol of generosity. Pomegranates, however, are a symbol of temptation that literally lead to hell. In Greek myth, Persephone, the daughter of Demeter (the goddess of agriculture), is consigned to live six months of every year in the underworld because she ate six pomegranate seeds, given to her by Hades, king of the underworld. By comparing pineapples and pomegranates, Muldoon again shows how quickly things can shift from beneficence to destruction.
Muldoon’s second use of the question “right?” interrupts the final line and conveys the speaker’s sense of doubt about what he is saying. Rather than confidently offering the hope that peace is achievable, the poet-speaker doubts whether or not he even knows about what he is talking, and the poem concludes on an uncertain note.
The poem began as a personal recollection of an innocent and mostly enjoyable adolescent memory. However, rather than offering a definitive answer to the octave, the poem’s last six lines, or sestet, contrast with the first eight lines by focusing on adult doubts and preoccupations with world violence. The short sentences, rhymes, repetitions, and word shifts in the last six lines bolster the sense that memory and reality are hard to pin down.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support