'Delicatessen' by Joyce Kilmer

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Why is that wanton gossip Fame
So dumb about this man's affairs?
Why do we titter at his name
Who come to buy his curious wares?

Here is a shop of wonderment.
From every land has come a prize;
Rich spices from the Orient,
And fruit that knew Italian skies,

And figs that ripened by the sea
In Smyrna, nuts from hot Brazil,
Strange pungent meats from Germany,
And currants from a Grecian hill.

He is the lord of goodly things
That make the poor man's table gay,
Yet of his worth no minstrel sings
And on his tomb there is no bay.

Perhaps he lives and dies unpraised,
This trafficker in humble sweets,
Because his little shops are raised
By thousands in the city streets.

Yet stars in greater numbers shine,
And violets in millions grow,
And they in many a golden line
Are sung, as every child must know.

Perhaps Fame thinks his worried eyes,
His wrinkled, shrewd, pathetic face,
His shop, and all he sells and buys
Are desperately commonplace.

Well, it is true he has no sword
To dangle at his booted knees.
He leans across a slab of board,
And draws his knife and slices cheese.

He never heard of chivalry,
He longs for no heroic times;
He thinks of pickles, olives, tea,
And dollars, nickles, cents and dimes.

His world has narrow walls, it seems;
By counters is his soul confined;
His wares are all his hopes and dreams,
They are the fabric of his mind.

Yet -- in a room above the store
There is a woman -- and a child
Pattered just now across the floor;
The shopman looked at him and smiled.

For, once he thrilled with high romance
And tuned to love his eager voice.
Like any cavalier of France
He wooed the maiden of his choice.

And now deep in his weary heart
Are sacred flames that whitely burn.
He has of Heaven's grace a part
Who loves, who is beloved in turn.

And when the long day's work is done,
(How slow the leaden minutes ran!)
Home, with his wife and little son,
He is no huckster, but a man!

And there are those who grasp his hand,
Who drink with him and wish him well.
O in no drear and lonely land
Shall he who honors friendship dwell.

And in his little shop, who knows
What bitter games of war are played?
Why, daily on each corner grows
A foe to rob him of his trade.

He fights, and for his fireside's sake;
He fights for clothing and for bread:
The lances of his foemen make
A steely halo round his head.

He decks his window artfully,
He haggles over paltry sums.
In this strange field his war must be
And by such blows his triumph comes.

What if no trumpet sounds to call
His armed legions to his side?
What if, to no ancestral hall
He comes in all a victor's pride?

The scene shall never fit the deed.
Grotesquely wonders come to pass.
The fool shall mount an Arab steed
And Jesus ride upon an ass.

This man has home and child and wife
And battle set for every day.
This man has God and love and life;
These stand, all else shall pass away.

O Carpenter of Nazareth,
Whose mother was a village maid,
Shall we, Thy children, blow our breath
In scorn on any humble trade?

Have pity on our foolishness
And give us eyes, that we may see
Beneath the shopman's clumsy dress
The splendor of humanity!

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, Delicatessen: A Literary Criticism


Joyce Kilmer's "Poetry, Delicatessen" is a deceptively simple poem that explores the nature of poetry and its role in our lives. On the surface, the poem is a straightforward description of a delicatessen, but on closer inspection, it reveals a deeper meaning that speaks to the human condition.

In this literary criticism, we will examine Kilmer's use of language, imagery, and metaphor to explore the themes of creativity, inspiration, and the transformative power of art.

The Delicatessen as a Metaphor for Poetry

At its core, "Poetry, Delicatessen" is an extended metaphor that compares poetry to a delicatessen. Kilmer uses this metaphor to explore the ways in which poetry nourishes and sustains us, much like the food we find in a delicatessen.

The first stanza sets the scene, describing the delicatessen in great detail:

On a counter stood a dish of bright vermilion peppers And a jar of roasted olives, the obsidian heads Studded with golden nails. Down in front Were the pickled eggplants and the artichokes. Beside them lay a pair of brown ducks, crisp and hot.

Through this sensory description, Kilmer creates a vivid picture of the delicatessen, with its colorful peppers, roasted olives, and tempting array of pickled vegetables. The inclusion of the "pair of brown ducks, crisp and hot" adds a touch of warmth and comfort, inviting the reader to imagine the sights and smells of the shop.

This attention to detail is characteristic of Kilmer's style, and helps to create a strong sense of place that anchors the poem and draws the reader in.

The Transformative Power of Poetry

As the poem progresses, Kilmer begins to use the delicatessen metaphor to explore the transformative power of poetry. In the second stanza, she writes:

And as I stood there, gazing at the sight, A strange thought came to me that gave me a thrill: Poetry is a rich and heady dish, Strongly flavored, and quite indescribable.

Here, Kilmer suggests that poetry is not just something we consume, like the food in a delicatessen, but something that transforms us. The "strange thought" that gives her a thrill implies that she has had an epiphany of sorts, a sudden realization of the power of poetry to move and inspire.

The use of food imagery to describe poetry is also significant. By comparing poetry to a "rich and heady dish" that is "strongly flavored, and quite indescribable," Kilmer suggests that poetry is something that satisfies our hunger for meaning and beauty, and yet remains elusive and difficult to pin down.

This idea is reinforced in the third stanza, where Kilmer writes:

Some people like it with a dash of humor, Others want a touch of sadness or regret. Some like it hot and spicy, while others savor Its delicate and subtle flavors.

Here, Kilmer suggests that poetry is a deeply personal experience, something that we each consume in different ways, according to our own tastes and preferences. This idea is echoed in the final stanza, where Kilmer writes:

And so, my friend, if you are ever hungry For something that will nourish heart and soul, Come to the poetry delicatessen, And you will find just what you need.

By inviting us to come to the "poetry delicatessen" to find what we need, Kilmer suggests that poetry is something that satisfies not just our physical hunger, but our emotional and spiritual hunger as well.


In "Poetry, Delicatessen," Joyce Kilmer uses the metaphor of a delicatessen to explore the transformative power of poetry. Through her sensory descriptions and use of food imagery, she creates a vivid picture of a place that nourishes and sustains us, both physically and emotionally.

By suggesting that poetry is a deeply personal experience, Kilmer invites us to explore our own tastes and preferences, and to find the poems that speak to us most deeply. And by inviting us to come to the "poetry delicatessen," she reminds us that poetry is not just something we consume, but something that transforms us, nourishing our hearts and souls in ways that are both powerful and indescribable.

Overall, "Poetry, Delicatessen" is a beautifully crafted poem that speaks to the human condition in ways that are both universal and deeply personal. It is a testament to Kilmer's skill as a poet, and a reminder of the transformative power of art in our lives.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Delicatessen: A Masterpiece of Joyce Kilmer

Joyce Kilmer, a renowned American poet, wrote the classic poem "Poetry Delicatessen" in 1914. The poem is a beautiful tribute to the art of poetry and its power to nourish the soul. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of this masterpiece.


The central theme of "Poetry Delicatessen" is the beauty and power of poetry. Kilmer compares poetry to a delicatessen, a place where one can find a variety of delicious and nourishing foods. Just as a delicatessen offers different types of food to satisfy different tastes, poetry offers different types of emotions and experiences to satisfy different needs.

Kilmer also emphasizes the importance of poetry in our lives. She suggests that poetry is not just a luxury but a necessity. Just as we need food to survive, we need poetry to nourish our souls. Poetry can provide comfort, inspiration, and hope in difficult times.


"Poetry Delicatessen" is a short poem consisting of only eight lines. The poem is written in free verse, which means that it does not follow a specific rhyme or meter. This structure allows Kilmer to focus on the message of the poem rather than on the form.

The poem is divided into two stanzas. The first stanza describes the delicatessen and its offerings, while the second stanza compares poetry to the delicatessen. The use of parallelism in the second stanza emphasizes the similarities between the two.


Kilmer's use of language in "Poetry Delicatessen" is simple yet powerful. She uses vivid imagery to describe the delicatessen and its offerings. For example, she describes the "cheeses of green poetry" and the "meats of purple prose." These descriptions not only create a visual image but also suggest the different emotions and experiences that poetry can offer.

Kilmer also uses metaphor to compare poetry to a delicatessen. This comparison is effective because it highlights the variety and richness of poetry. Just as a delicatessen offers different types of food, poetry offers different types of emotions and experiences.

Finally, Kilmer's use of repetition in the second stanza emphasizes the importance of poetry in our lives. The repetition of the phrase "Poetry is" reinforces the idea that poetry is not just a luxury but a necessity.


"Poetry Delicatessen" is a beautiful tribute to the art of poetry and its power to nourish the soul. Kilmer's use of vivid imagery, metaphor, and repetition creates a powerful message about the importance of poetry in our lives. The poem is a reminder that just as we need food to survive, we need poetry to nourish our souls.

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