The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Ruby Tells All” is a sixty-four-line, five-stanza poem written in blank verse. The title of the poem establishes both the occasion of the poem and the confessional nature of the piece: The speaker in the poem is a woman named Ruby, who recounts some of the major events in her long life and reflects upon what life has taught her. One of the strongest features of the poem is the voice of Ruby, an unwavering and direct voice that characterizes her and establishes her position in society.

“Ruby Tells All” is an appropriate introduction to Miller Williams’s work because Williams frequently writes poems that are dramatic monologues: works in which a character directly addresses an audience in such a way as to unintentionally reveal some substantial insight or show some important aspect of his or her personality. As is the case with many of Williams’s dramatic monologues, in “Ruby Tells All” the speaker is identified in the poem’s title. While there is little interaction between speaker and listener in the poem, some critics have maintained that Ruby is telling her life story to a customer at the coffee shop where she works. Support for the assumption that Ruby is speaking to one of her customers comes in the second stanza, in which Ruby says, “I’ve poured coffee here too many years/ for men who rolled in in Peterbilts.”

In the first stanza Ruby tells about her childhood; in the second she explains how difficult it is as an adult to tell truth...

(The entire section is 607 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Ruby Tells All” is an excellent example of Williams’s tendency to write about ordinary people in ordinary language. Ruby’s diction characterizes her as a working-class person, but even though her language is ordinary, Ruby is able to achieve extraordinary insights about life. The most important formal aspect of the poem is its meter; it is written in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter). Iambic pentameter is the most common pattern in English poetry, and its rhythm appears naturally in English speech and writing. Therefore, iambic pentameter is a suitable meter for a poem that is “spoken” in the voice of one character.

The formal meter of the poem is, however, in juxtaposition to Ruby’s diction. Her common diction is especially apparent in stanza 2, in which she says, “I wouldn’t take crap off anybody/ if I just knew that I was getting crap/ in time not to take it.” In addition to juxtaposing Ruby’s common diction with formal meter, Williams uses juxtaposition to close the poem by mixing her philosophical musings with personal ones. When contemplating what she might tell her daughter if they should meet again, Ruby wonders if she should say “that against appearances/ there is love, constancy, and kindness” or that her fingers hurt at night and she has dresses she has never worn. The juxtaposition of philosophical concerns with ordinary ones is indicative of Williams’s ability to write powerfully about common people who...

(The entire section is 521 words.)