This week’s poem is The Illiterate by William Meredith.
This one is a favorite. I memorized it years ago and come back to it often.
The simplicity of both the subject matter and form is deceptive. It is a sonnet but note how the rhymes work, how they envelope around the last syllables – man, hand, hand, man – playing out the story of the poem in the word choice itself.
The extended metaphor takes over after the first line and comes back in the turning over of words at the end of the poem.
I won’t say too much more, seeing as this is a poem about what is left unsaid.
The Illiterate – William Meredith
Touching your goodness, I am like a man
Who turns a letter over in his hand
And you might think this was because the hand
was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man
Has never had a letter from anyone;
And now he is both afraid of what it means
And ashamed because he has no other means
To find out what it says than to ask someone.
His uncle could have left the farm to him,
Or his parents died before he sent them word,
Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.
Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.
What would you call his feeling for the words
That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?
* image found here.