The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Sincerely” is a cleverly constructed seventy-nine-line poem about the art and craft of letter writing. Its author, inspired by her Palestinian American heritage and extensive travels to Asia, the Middle East, and Central America, considers correspondence from friends, family, and strangers a fascinating subject. She begins the six-part poem by describing envelopes as “usually white and slim,/ bleached as a shell we might press to our ears.” Letters, she suggests, are full of mystery, humor, pathos, and joy. Within the first few lines, Naomi Shihab Nye poses several thought-provoking questions about letters: What are their unique shapes and sizes? Where do they travel in their long journey from one place to another? What do they bring us? Most important, what do they demand from us?

As if to illustrate the answers, Nye shares brief portions of five letters, each presumably a response to an earlier epistle. The first begins “Thank you. The articles about raising children/ arrived when my child was being very difficult.” Sometimes letters come with much needed advice. Unfortunately, in this particular case the narrator lost the parenting articles before she could put their helpful hints to use. Nevertheless, because she is grateful for the kind gesture, in return she encloses a brochure listing places to buy Hawaiian clothing in Texas, “should you have a need.” With this exchange Nye humorously illustrates that letters provide an avenue for...

(The entire section is 523 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Figurative language abounds in Nye’s lively poem about the power of the written word. Engaging the reader’s fancy, she employs personification to explore the human qualities of letters. She calls them “travelers” who journey through “slots and chutes and shelves and bags” and then, because often it is a very long and tiring journey, fall asleep in the narrator’s black mailbox. When she slices open the letters with the blade of a small knife taken from “a case carved like a fish,” this simple gesture “opens a far world” as news from friends and family pours forth, “cranking the creaky door of the heart.” Sometimes, visited by an “impudent question,” she wonders if she is equal to the task of responding. Like the words of the letters she receives, Nye’s words touch and enlighten readers. Poet William Stafford has praised Nye’s poetry for combining “transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insight.” He calls her “a champion of encouragement and heart.”

One reason for Naomi Shihab Nye’s appeal is her skillful use of metaphor to examine gently the interplay of countries and cultures. In the third section, the letter to her island friend, the speaker compares her memory of the island to a mint, rolling around on her tongue as she absorbs and savors the flavor. This sweetness sharply contrasts with the other woman’s aching desire to leave the same island. Her friend wears “the colors of the...

(The entire section is 424 words.)