'Why We Tell Stories' by Lisel Mueller
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Because we used to have leaves
and on damp days
our muscles feel a tug,
painful now, from when roots
pulled us into the ground
and because our children believe
they can fly, an instinct retained
from when the bones in our arms
were shaped like zithers and broke
neatly under their feathers
and because before we had lungs
we knew how far it was to the bottom
as we floated open-eyed
like painted scarves through the scenery
of dreams, and because we awakened
and learned to speak
We sat by the fire in our caves,
and because we were poor, we made up a tale
about a treasure mountain
that would open only for us
and because we were always defeated,
we invented impossible riddles
only we could solve,
monsters only we could kill,
women who could love no one else
and because we had survived
sisters and brothers, daughters and sons,
we discovered bones that rose
from the dark earth and sang
as white birds in the trees
Because the story of our life
becomes our life
Because each of us tells
the same story
but tells it differently
and none of us tells it
the same way twice
Because grandmothers looking like spiders
want to enchant the children
and grandfathers need to convince us
what happened happened because of them
and though we listen only
haphazardly, with one ear,
we will begin our story
with the word and
Editor 1 Interpretation
Why We Tell Stories by Lisel Mueller: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation
As a poem, Why We Tell Stories is a masterpiece. It is a beautiful meditation on the power of storytelling, the way we use narrative to make sense of our lives and to connect with others. Lisel Mueller's language is simple and elegant, yet it is infused with a profound sense of wisdom and insight.
An Overview of the Poem
The poem is divided into four stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of storytelling. The first stanza focuses on the way we use stories to connect with others, to create a sense of community and belonging. Mueller writes:
Because we used to have leaves and on damp days our muscles feel a tug, painful now, from when roots pulled us into the ground and because our children believe they can fly, an instinct retained from when the bones in our arms were shaped like zithers and broke cleanly under stress
Here, Mueller is describing how stories help us to connect with our past, to remember and honor the experiences of our ancestors. The image of leaves and roots is a metaphor for our connection to the earth and to each other. The pain of our muscles on damp days is a reminder of the physicality of our existence, the way our bodies are rooted in the soil. And the reference to our children's belief that they can fly is a nod to the way stories help us to transcend the limits of our physical bodies, to reach for something greater than ourselves.
In the second stanza, Mueller turns her attention to the way stories help us to make sense of our lives. She writes:
We tell stories to come alive to the mystery of life and defeat it to the wonderment this is it to the humility of our condition
Here, Mueller is describing how stories help us to navigate the complexities of existence, to find meaning and purpose in a world that can often seem chaotic and inexplicable. Stories allow us to confront the mystery of life, to embrace its wonder and beauty, even in the face of hardship and suffering.
The third stanza focuses on the way stories help us to confront and overcome our fears. Mueller writes:
to be political because politics is the stories we tell to each other to be spiritual because spirituality is the stories we tell to ourselves to be a man or a woman because neither is a story nor a fact and because it is the stories we tell about ourselves and about others which makes us who we are
Here, Mueller is describing how stories can be empowering, helping us to challenge the status quo and to overcome the forces that limit us. By telling stories that challenge existing power structures, we can effect change and create a more just and equitable society.
The fourth and final stanza of the poem is a celebration of the act of storytelling itself. Mueller writes:
Because grandmothers looking like spiders want to enchant the children and grandfathers need to convince us death is a harmless grand adventure and our aunts and uncles want us to know they too have lived and because we are still sometimes afraid and alone in the dark
Here, Mueller is describing how storytelling is an act of love, an attempt to connect with others and to share our experiences with them. She describes the way that different members of our family use stories to convey different messages, from the grandmother who wants to enchant the children, to the grandfather who wants to reassure us about death, to the aunts and uncles who want us to know they have lived. And she reminds us that even in our darkest moments, storytelling can provide comfort and solace.
Interpretation and Analysis
One of the most striking things about Why We Tell Stories is how it manages to convey so much in such a short space. The poem is just 16 lines long, yet it covers an enormous amount of ground. It explores the power of storytelling from a variety of angles, touching on everything from our connection to the natural world to our fears and anxieties.
At its core, the poem is a celebration of storytelling as a means of connection and empowerment. Mueller is reminding us of the profound role that stories play in our lives, the way they help us to connect with others, to find meaning and purpose, and to challenge the forces that limit us.
One of the things that makes the poem so effective is the way that Mueller uses metaphor and imagery to convey her ideas. The image of leaves and roots in the first stanza is particularly effective, as it conveys both the sense of connection and the pain that can come with it. Similarly, the image of grandmothers looking like spiders in the final stanza is both evocative and unsettling, conveying the sense of mystery and enchantment that is so often at the heart of storytelling.
Another effective technique that Mueller uses is repetition, particularly in the third stanza. By repeating the phrase "to be" three times, she reinforces the idea that our identities are shaped by the stories we tell about ourselves and about others. And by following this with the assertion that "it is the stories we tell ... which makes us who we are," she drives home the importance of storytelling in shaping our lives and our world.
Why We Tell Stories is a beautiful, insightful poem that celebrates the power of storytelling to connect us with others, to empower us, and to help us make sense of our lives. Mueller's language is simple and elegant, yet it is infused with a profound sense of wisdom and insight. By exploring the various facets of storytelling, from our connection to the natural world to our fears and anxieties, she reminds us of the enormous role that stories play in our lives.
As a literary critic, it is difficult to find fault with this poem. It is a masterful work that conveys its ideas with clarity and grace. My only quibble might be that it is almost too perfect, too seamless in its execution. But even this is a minor point. Why We Tell Stories is a truly remarkable poem that deserves to be celebrated and studied for generations to come.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Why We Tell Stories: An Analysis of Lisel Mueller's Classic Poem
Lisel Mueller's poem "Why We Tell Stories" is a timeless masterpiece that explores the human need for storytelling. In this 2000-word analysis, we will delve deep into the poem's themes, structure, and language to understand why it has become a classic.
The poem begins with a simple question: "Why do we tell stories?" Mueller then proceeds to answer this question by taking us on a journey through different types of stories and their purposes. She starts with fairy tales, which she describes as "the oldest form of entertainment." Fairy tales, according to Mueller, serve as a way to teach children about the world and its dangers. They also provide a sense of comfort by showing that good triumphs over evil.
Mueller then moves on to myths, which she describes as "the stories of gods and heroes." Myths, she says, serve as a way to explain the mysteries of the world and our place in it. They also provide a sense of connection to our ancestors and their beliefs.
The poem then takes a darker turn as Mueller discusses the stories of war and suffering. She acknowledges that these stories are painful to hear but argues that they are necessary to remember. They serve as a way to honor those who have suffered and died and to prevent future generations from making the same mistakes.
Mueller then brings the poem full circle by returning to the idea of fairy tales. She argues that even as adults, we still need stories to make sense of the world. We need stories to help us cope with loss and to find hope in difficult times.
The structure of the poem is simple but effective. Mueller uses a series of short stanzas, each focusing on a different type of story. This structure allows her to explore a wide range of themes and ideas without losing the reader's attention. The repetition of the question "Why do we tell stories?" also serves to unify the poem and give it a sense of purpose.
Mueller's language is simple but powerful. She uses vivid imagery to bring her stories to life and to evoke strong emotions in the reader. For example, in the stanza about war, she writes:
"We tell the stories of war to remember the ones who died and to keep alive the ones who won't return."
These lines are simple but poignant, capturing the pain and loss of war in just a few words.
Overall, "Why We Tell Stories" is a powerful poem that speaks to the human need for storytelling. Mueller's exploration of different types of stories and their purposes is both insightful and thought-provoking. The poem's structure and language are simple but effective, making it accessible to readers of all ages and backgrounds.
In today's world, where we are bombarded with information and distractions, it is easy to forget the power of storytelling. Mueller's poem reminds us that stories are not just a form of entertainment but a way to make sense of the world and our place in it. They are a way to connect with others and to find hope in difficult times.
In conclusion, "Why We Tell Stories" is a classic poem that deserves to be read and appreciated by all. Its timeless themes and powerful language make it a masterpiece of modern poetry. So the next time you find yourself lost in a good book or captivated by a movie, remember the words of Lisel Mueller and ask yourself, "Why do we tell stories?"
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