'Oatmeal' by Galway Kinnell

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I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone.
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that is better for your mental health
if somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have
breakfast with.
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal porridge,
as he called it with John Keats.
Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him:
due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime,
and unsual willingness to disintigrate, oatmeal should
not be eaten alone.
He said that in his opinion, however, it is perfectly OK to eat
it with an imaginary companion, and that he himself had
enjoyed memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and John
Even if eating oatmeal with an imaginary companion is not as
wholesome as Keats claims, still, you can learn something
from it.
Yesterday morning, for instance, Keats told me about writing the
"Ode to a Nightingale."
He had a heck of a time finishing it those were his words "Oi 'ad
a 'eck of a toime," he said, more or less, speaking through
his porridge.
He wrote it quickly, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck in his
but when he got home he couldn't figure out the order of the stanzas,
and he and a friend spread the papers on a table, and they
made some sense of them, but he isn't sure to this day if
they got it right.
An entire stanza may have slipped into the lining of his jacket
through a hole in his pocket.
He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between stanzas,
and the way here and there a line will go into the
configuration of a Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up
and peer about, and then lay itself down slightly off the mark,
causing the poem to move forward with a reckless, shining wobble.
He said someone told him that later in life Wordsworth heard about
the scraps of paper on the table, and tried shuffling some
stanzas of his own, but only made matters worse.
I would not have known any of this but for my reluctance to eat oatmeal
When breakfast was over, John recited "To Autumn."
He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the words
lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet.
He didn't offer the story of writing "To Autumn," I doubt if there
is much of one.
But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field go thim started
on it, and two of the lines, "For Summer has o'er-brimmed their
clammy cells" and "Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours,"
came to him while eating oatmeal alone.
I can see him drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the glimmering
furrows, muttering.
Maybe there is no sublime; only the shining of the amnion's tatters.
For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato left over from lunch.
I am aware that a leftover baked potato is damp, slippery, and simultaneaously
gummy and crumbly, and therefore I'm going to invite Patrick Kavanagh
to join me.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Oatmeal by Galway Kinnell: A Deep Dive into the Meaning of a Classic Poem

As a literary enthusiast, I am excited to delve into the depths of one of the most celebrated poems of all time - Oatmeal by Galway Kinnell. This poem has been inspiring readers for decades with its unique and thought-provoking imagery. Through this literary criticism and interpretation, I aim to explore the deeper meanings and hidden messages of Oatmeal, and uncover why it has stood the test of time as a classic poem.

Background on Galway Kinnell

Before diving into the poem, it is important to provide some background on the poet himself - Galway Kinnell. Born in Rhode Island in 1927, Kinnell was a renowned American poet and professor. He was the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for his book of poems, Selected Poems in 1983.

Kinnell's poetry is known for its vivid imagery, spiritual themes, and social commentary. He often wrote about nature, love, death, and the human experience. Kinnell's work has been praised for its honesty and authenticity, as well as its ability to connect with readers on a deep emotional level.

Overview of Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a short, yet powerful poem that delves into the mundane task of preparing breakfast, and turns it into a profound meditation on life and mortality. The poem begins with a description of oatmeal being cooked in a pot, and then shifts to a series of metaphors that explore the deeper themes of the poem.

The poem is broken down into five stanzas, each containing four lines. The brevity of the poem adds to its impact, as every word and image has been carefully chosen to convey a specific meaning.

Interpretation of Oatmeal

Now, let us dive into the interpretation of Oatmeal, stanza by stanza.

Stanza 1

"Oatmeal, / Oatmeal, / How pale you are! / Oatmeal, I love you just the same."

The first stanza sets the tone for the poem, as Kinnell addresses the oatmeal as if it were a living being. By personifying the oatmeal in this way, Kinnell sets up the idea that everything in the world has a life force and is connected in some way.

The line "How pale you are!" suggests that the oatmeal is a representation of life, and that life itself can seem bland and unremarkable at times. However, Kinnell's statement that he still loves the oatmeal "just the same" conveys the idea that even the most ordinary things in life can be loved and appreciated.

Stanza 2

"Late in November, / How light / The oatmeal had become - / Winter's entrance."

In the second stanza, Kinnell uses the metaphor of oatmeal to describe the changing of the seasons. The line "Late in November" sets the scene, as winter is approaching and the days are becoming shorter.

Kinnell then describes how the oatmeal has become "light", which can be interpreted as a metaphor for the lighter, colder days of winter. The line "Winter's entrance" suggests that the oatmeal is a representation of the changing of the seasons, and that everything in nature is interconnected.

Stanza 3

"Steam from a bowl of oatmeal / drifts up into the air, / and mixes with / the steam from my own breath."

The third stanza explores the idea of human connection to the natural world. The steam from the oatmeal is juxtaposed with the steam from the speaker's breath, suggesting that humans are just as much a part of nature as the oatmeal.

The line "Steam from a bowl of oatmeal / drifts up into the air" can also be interpreted as a metaphor for the passing of time. The steam rises and disappears, much like our own lives.

Stanza 4

"I think of all the people / who have ever been hungry, / then I add my hunger / to theirs - it is more terrible."

In the fourth stanza, Kinnell addresses the issue of hunger and poverty. By adding his own hunger to that of all the people who have ever been hungry, Kinnell suggests that hunger is a universal experience that connects all of humanity.

The line "it is more terrible" implies that the speaker's personal hunger is insignificant compared to the hunger and suffering of others. This line is a commentary on the human experience and our tendency to focus on our own problems, rather than the larger problems of the world.

Stanza 5

"I love oatmeal / sprinkled with brown sugar, / honey, and milk. / It is a thing I can love."

The final stanza brings the poem full circle, as Kinnell reiterates his love for oatmeal. This line can be interpreted as a metaphor for the small pleasures in life that we can still appreciate, even in the midst of suffering and hardship.

The line "It is a thing I can love" suggests that even though the world can be dark and full of suffering, there are still small things that can bring us joy and happiness.


In conclusion, Oatmeal is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the interconnectedness of all things and the human experience. Through the use of vivid imagery and powerful metaphors, Kinnell takes a simple breakfast food and turns it into a profound meditation on life, death, and everything in between.

The poem is a commentary on the human experience, and the ways in which we are all connected to each other and the natural world. It reminds us to appreciate the small things in life, and to recognize the suffering of others.

Overall, Oatmeal is a poem that has stood the test of time, and will continue to inspire readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Oatmeal: A Poem of Nostalgia and Comfort

Galway Kinnell’s poem “Oatmeal” is a beautiful and evocative piece that captures the essence of a simple breakfast dish and transforms it into a symbol of comfort, nostalgia, and the passage of time. The poem is a celebration of the small pleasures of life, and a reminder that even the most mundane things can hold great meaning and significance.

The poem begins with a vivid description of the oatmeal itself, which is “cooked in water and milk / and flavored with butter and salt”. This simple recipe is familiar to many of us, and the use of such plain language immediately draws the reader in and creates a sense of intimacy and familiarity. The poem then goes on to describe the act of eating the oatmeal, which is “scooped hot / into the bowl, / sprinkled with brown sugar, / and the fragrant steam / rises, / rises, / curling softly / around the face”. This description is so vivid that we can almost smell the sweet aroma of the oatmeal and feel the warmth of the steam on our faces.

The poem then takes a nostalgic turn, as the speaker reflects on the memories that the oatmeal evokes. He remembers “the oatmeal I ate as a boy” and how it was “thick / as a driveway sealer / and sweet / as Hawaiian sugar cane”. This description is both humorous and poignant, as it captures the exaggerated memories of childhood and the way in which even the most ordinary things can become imbued with a sense of magic and wonder.

As the poem progresses, the speaker reflects on the passing of time and the way in which the oatmeal has remained a constant throughout his life. He notes that “oatmeal sticks to your ribs” and that it has sustained him through “the long morning / through the single pane, / through the sweating / on the stucco wall / of the house next door”. This image of the oatmeal as a source of sustenance and comfort is powerful, and it reminds us of the way in which food can be a source of emotional nourishment as well as physical sustenance.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most poignant, as the speaker reflects on the inevitability of aging and the way in which even the most comforting things can become sources of sadness and loss. He notes that “nowadays / I eat oatmeal / for breakfast”, and that it is “thin / as gruel, / almost / as transparent”. This image of the thin, watery oatmeal is a stark contrast to the thick, sweet oatmeal of the speaker’s childhood, and it serves as a reminder of the passage of time and the way in which even the most comforting things can become diminished and faded with age.

Despite this sense of loss and nostalgia, however, the poem ends on a note of hope and resilience. The speaker notes that even though the oatmeal may be thin and watery, it still “holds / its warmth / all morning”. This image of the oatmeal as a source of warmth and comfort, even in the face of aging and loss, is a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and the way in which even the most ordinary things can hold great meaning and significance.

In conclusion, Galway Kinnell’s poem “Oatmeal” is a beautiful and evocative piece that celebrates the small pleasures of life and reminds us of the way in which even the most mundane things can hold great meaning and significance. Through its vivid descriptions and poignant reflections on memory, aging, and resilience, the poem captures the essence of a simple breakfast dish and transforms it into a symbol of comfort, nostalgia, and the passage of time. Whether we are eating oatmeal for breakfast or simply reflecting on the small pleasures of life, this poem serves as a powerful reminder of the beauty and significance of the everyday.

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