A Reading of the Poem
A parent is talking to his/her’s son and telling him how things used to be. The parent tells the son that people used to be sincere, but are now superficial and seek only to take from others. The persona tells the child that he/she has learnt to be just like these people, but does not want to be like that anymore. The parent wants to be as sincere as the son.
The people’s eyes are as cold as ice. This means that there is no warmth or real feeling in the words that they say, or how they behave. This metaphor literally allows you to visualize a block of ice, cold and unwelcoming.
Stanza 4, lines 20-21 emphasizes the constant changes in the persona’s face. If you think of how often a woman changes her dress, then that is how often the persona adjusts his/her’s personality to suit an audience. The list of faces that follow this line emphasizes this point.
Stanza 4, lines 23-24 compares people’s faces to smiles in a portrait. If you think about a portrait, it is usually very formal and stiff, even uncomfortable. Therefore, the implication is that the smiles are actually fake and stiff. They are conforming, or trying to fit, to a preconceived mold that is set up by societal expectations.
Stanza 6, lines 38-40 compares the persona’s laugh to a snakes. When you think of a snake, words such as sneaky and deceitful come to mind. Therefore, the implication is that the persona is fake, just like the people he/she despises.
This phrase is repeated at the beginning and the end of the poem. This usually signals the beginning of a fairy tale. Therefore, it is implied that the persona is nostalgic about the past.
IMPORTANT WORDS/ PHRASES
4.’they only laugh with their teeth’
This emphasizes the insincerity of the people around the persona. To laugh with your teeth means that only the bottom half of your face is engaged, the laugh does not reach the eyes.
- ‘shake hands with their heart’
To shake hands with your heart implies a strong handshake that is sincere, this is the opposite of what now occurs between people.
- ‘search behind my shadow’
This implies that the person cannot look the persona in the eye, they are looking everywhere but there. Looking someone in the eye during a conversation implies that one is sincerely interested in what you have to say. Not being able to do so implies shiftiness.
- ‘hands search my empty pockets’
People are only ‘seemingly’ nice to get something from you. So, they smile with you, but it is not sincere, they are seeking to get something from you.
- ‘unlearn all these muting things’
The word mute means silence, think of what happens when you press the mute button on the TV remote. Therefore, there is an implication that the insincere actions that the persona describes are muting, they block, or silence, good intentions. Hence, the persona wants to ‘unlearn’ these habits.
The mood of the poem is nostalgic. The persona is remembering how things used to be when he was young and innocent, like his son.
The tone of the poem is sad. The poet’s response to his nostalgia is sadness.
- Childhood experiences,
- Loss of innocence,
- Appearance vs reality
* It is IRONIC that the persona is behaving in the exact way that he/she despises. There is an implication that things cannot go back to what he remembers, due to the influence of societal expectations.