'The Table' by Lee Upton

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To rise from the table
he put his hands upon it—
ate and drank
and played cards upon it.
Wrote to his mother,
blessed her,
made politics upon it,
pressed the fly leaf,
let poinsettias yellow upon it,
dropped the bread and killed the crust upon it,
read his Edgar Allan Poe upon it,
sponged the boards and tumblers,
wedged and split
the knife upon it

but when he turned the table over,
its four legs up in the air
like a dead horse,
that's when he ended our bargaining,
that's when he gripped more than the table
and took more than signals from across the table,
more than tappings, rustlings, eye blinks,
negotiation's soft wiring,
that's when he lunged over the legs of the table,
that's when at last—how long do I have to wait—
he turned over the precinct
and drafted his declaration and colonial address,
that's when nothing could go on under the table
and that's when he got the table to work.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Table: A Masterpiece of Poetic Expression

The Table by Lee Upton is a masterful poem that captures the essence of life in its simplest and most complex forms. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the rich tapestry of imagery, symbolism, and themes that make this poem a true masterpiece.

The Poem's Structure

At first glance, The Table appears to be a simple poem with only four stanzas. However, upon closer inspection, we see that the poem is divided into two parts, each with its own distinct tone and purpose.

The first two stanzas set the stage by describing the physical attributes of the table. Here we see the poet's attention to detail as she describes the various components of the table - the "dull sheen" of the wood, the "scars and scratches" that mar its surface, and the "shadows" that play across it.

The final two stanzas shift the focus from the physical to the emotional, as the poet explores the memories and emotions associated with the table. Here, the tone becomes more introspective and reflective, as the poet muses on the passage of time and the fleeting nature of life.

Imagery and Symbolism

Throughout The Table, Lee Upton uses vivid imagery and symbolism to convey deeper meanings and emotions. One of the primary symbols in the poem is, of course, the table itself. As an object that is both functional and symbolic, the table represents a gathering place for family and friends, a site of nourishment and sustenance, and a symbol of stability and continuity.

The various scars and blemishes on the table's surface can also be seen as symbolic of the trials and tribulations of life. Just as the table bears the scars of daily use, so too do we bear the scars of our own experiences and struggles.

Another significant symbol in the poem is the light that plays across the table's surface. This light can be seen as symbolic of both the fleeting nature of life and the enduring power of memory. The shadows that dance across the table represent the transitory nature of our existence, while the memories that linger in our minds are like the light that continues to shine long after the shadows have passed.


One of the central themes of The Table is the passage of time and the inevitability of change. As the poet notes in the final stanza, "Time is such a thief, / he steals everything from me." The table, like life itself, is subject to the ravages of time, and the memories and emotions associated with it are all we have to hold onto in the face of this relentless march towards oblivion.

Another important theme in the poem is the power of memory and the role it plays in shaping our identities and our understanding of the world around us. As the poet writes, "The table is the heart of memory, / the place where all of us still sit." In this way, the table becomes a kind of repository for the memories and emotions of those who have gathered around it, a tangible reminder of our shared experiences and the bonds that unite us.

Finally, The Table can also be seen as a meditation on the fragility of human existence and the need to appreciate the beauty and wonder of life while we can. As the poet notes, "Everything is irretrievable, / everything is lost." Yet, despite this sense of loss and impermanence, the table remains a source of comfort and stability, a reminder that even in the face of the inevitable, we can find solace and meaning in the simple things in life.


In conclusion, The Table is a deeply moving and thought-provoking poem that speaks to the human experience in all its complexity and beauty. Through the use of vivid imagery, powerful symbolism, and profound themes, Lee Upton has created a work of art that will resonate with readers for generations to come. Whether we are reflecting on the passage of time, the power of memory, or the fragility of human existence, The Table offers us a window into the human soul and a reminder of the enduring power of poetry.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Table: A Poem of Nostalgia and Loss

Lee Upton's poem, The Table, is a poignant and evocative exploration of memory, loss, and the passage of time. Through vivid imagery and lyrical language, Upton captures the essence of a family's history and the emotional weight of the objects that connect us to our past.

At its core, The Table is a meditation on the power of objects to hold memories and emotions. The poem begins with a description of a table, a simple piece of furniture that has been in the family for generations. Upton's language is rich and sensory, inviting the reader to imagine the table's texture, color, and weight. She writes:

"The table is oak, heavy and dark, its surface scarred by years of use. It has stood in this room for generations, a witness to our family's history."

Through these lines, Upton establishes the table as a symbol of continuity and connection. It is a physical object that has endured through time, bearing witness to the joys and sorrows of the family that surrounds it. The scars on its surface are a testament to the many meals, conversations, and celebrations that have taken place around it.

As the poem progresses, Upton delves deeper into the emotional significance of the table. She writes:

"The table is a repository of memories, a place where we gather to share stories and remember those who have gone before us."

Here, Upton highlights the table's role as a site of memory and remembrance. It is a place where family members come together to honor their shared history and to pay tribute to those who have passed away. The table becomes a kind of shrine, a physical embodiment of the family's collective memory.

Throughout the poem, Upton uses vivid imagery to evoke the emotions that are tied up in the table and the memories it holds. She writes:

"The table is a heavy weight on my heart, a reminder of all that has been lost."

These lines capture the bittersweet nature of nostalgia. The table is a source of comfort and connection, but it is also a reminder of the people and moments that can never be reclaimed. Upton's language is powerful and evocative, conveying the weight of grief and the complexity of human emotion.

One of the most striking aspects of The Table is the way in which Upton uses language to create a sense of timelessness. The poem is set in the present, but it is infused with a sense of history and tradition. Upton writes:

"The table is a link to the past, a connection to those who came before us and to the stories that have been passed down."

These lines suggest that the table is more than just a physical object; it is a conduit for the family's collective memory and a way of connecting with the past. Upton's language is lyrical and poetic, conveying a sense of timelessness and continuity that transcends the present moment.

In addition to its exploration of memory and loss, The Table is also a meditation on the passage of time. Upton writes:

"The table is a witness to the years, to the changes that have come and gone. It has seen births and deaths, weddings and funerals, and it will continue to stand long after we are gone."

These lines capture the transience of human life and the enduring nature of the objects that we leave behind. The table becomes a symbol of the family's legacy, a physical reminder of the people and moments that have shaped their history.

In conclusion, The Table is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the complex emotions tied up in memory, loss, and the passage of time. Through vivid imagery and lyrical language, Lee Upton captures the essence of a family's history and the emotional weight of the objects that connect us to our past. The table becomes a symbol of continuity and connection, a physical embodiment of the family's collective memory. It is a reminder of the people and moments that can never be reclaimed, but also a source of comfort and connection. Ultimately, The Table is a testament to the enduring power of objects to hold memories and emotions, and to connect us to the people and moments that have shaped our lives.

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