What literary devices are found in Leopold Staff's poem "Foundations"?


Leopold Staff

I built on the sand
And it tumbled down,
I built on a rock
And it tumbled down.
Now when I build, I shall begin
With the smoke from the chimney.

Expert Answers

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This non-rhyming, short piece is more like a Haiku (not literally) or eastern poetic form than a typical Western poetic form.  The short lines are succinct, built on archetypal symbols (sand and rock and smoke), depicting a philosophical idea through what might be called synecdoche, in which these three elements stand for all such objects.  The narrator is saying that the next effort to “build” something will be based on things that rise up (smoke) rather than things that are unstable (sand) or things that crumble (rock), things whose material qualities are illusions.  Symbolically the narrator is saying that instead of relying on things of this earthly plane, he will seek satisfaction in the ephemeral, the abstract, the spiritual.  The echoing of the syntax of each line suggests a parallel, in which the narrator achieves wisdom from his past “construction” failures.

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