'For A Thirteenth Birthday' by Lisel Mueller
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You have read War and Peace.
Now here is Sister Carrie,
not up to Tolstoy; still
it will second the real world:
predictable planes and levels,
pavement that holds you,
stairs that lift you,
ice that trips you,
nights that begin after sunset,
four lunar phases,
a finite house.
I give you Dreiser
although (or because)
I am no longer sure.
Lately I have been walking into glass doors.
Through the car windows, curbs disappear.
On the highway, wrong turnoffs become irresistible,
someone else is controlling the wheel.
Sleepless nights pile up like a police record;
all my friends are getting divorced.
Language, my old comrade, deserts me;
words are misused or forgotten,
consonants fight each other
between my upper and lower teeth.
I write "fiend" for "friend"
and "word" for "world",
remember comes out with an "m" missing.
I used to be able to find my way in the dark,
sure of the furniture,
but the town I lived in for years
has pulled up its streets in my absence,
disguised its buildings behind my back.
My neighbor at dinner glances
at his cuffs, his palms;
he has memorized certain phrases,
but does not speak my language.
Suddenly I am aware
no one at the table does.
And so I give you Dreiser,
his measure of certainty:
a table that's oak all the way through,
real and fragrant flowers,
skirts from sheep and silkworms,
no unknown fibers;
a language as plain as money,
a workable means of exchange;
a world whose very meanness is solid,
mud into mortar, and you are sure
of what will injure you.
I give you names like nails,
walls that withstand your pounding,
doors that are hard to open,
but once they are open, admit you
into rooms that breathe pure sun.
I give you trees that lose their leaves,
as you knew they would,
and then come green again.
I give you
fruit preceded by flowers,
Venus supreme in the sky,
the miracle of always
landing on your feet,
even though the earth
rotates on its axis.
Start out with that, at least.
Editor 1 Interpretation
For A Thirteenth Birthday: A Literary Criticism
For A Thirteenth Birthday is a poem by Lisel Mueller that explores the themes of growth, change, and the passage of time. The poem is a beautifully crafted piece that captures the essence of adolescence and the challenges that come with it. In this literary criticism, we will delve deeper into the meaning behind the poem and analyze its literary devices.
The poem begins with the speaker addressing a young girl who is celebrating her thirteenth birthday. The speaker begins by acknowledging the fact that the girl is growing up and that she is now entering a new phase of her life. The speaker notes that the girl is now "too big" for certain things and that she must now take on new responsibilities.
As the poem progresses, the speaker offers words of wisdom to the young girl. The speaker tells the girl that she must "learn to wear your skin / like a fabulous garment" and that she must "become the adult / that is hiding / in your skin." These lines suggest that the girl must learn to embrace who she is and that she must strive to become the person she wants to be.
The speaker also notes that the girl will face challenges and that she must be prepared to overcome them. The lines "There will be time / to face the road uphill / to bedlam" suggest that the girl will face difficult times in her life, but that she must be strong and persevere.
Throughout the poem, the speaker uses vivid imagery to convey the message of the poem. The lines "You will travel where wishes / are kept like compasses" suggest that the girl will embark on a journey in her life and that her hopes and dreams will guide her. The language used in the poem is simple yet powerful, and it helps to convey the message of the poem in a meaningful way.
For A Thirteenth Birthday is a poem that speaks to the universal experience of growing up. The poem acknowledges the challenges that come with adolescence and encourages the young girl to embrace who she is and to strive to become the person she wants to be. The poem is a powerful message of hope and perseverance, and it offers words of wisdom that are relevant to all of us, regardless of our age.
The poem also speaks to the idea of change and the passage of time. The lines "You will die / but the carbon will not" suggest that while the young girl will grow old and eventually die, her impact on the world will remain. This idea of legacy and the lasting impact we can have on the world is a powerful message that is relevant to all of us, regardless of our age.
Throughout the poem, the speaker urges the young girl to take on new challenges and to embrace the unknown. The lines "You will learn to be / a stranger to yourself / to wake among stones / lost with your thoughts" suggest that the girl must be prepared to face new challenges and to take risks in order to achieve her goals. This message of bravery and courage is an important one, and it encourages us all to step out of our comfort zones and to embrace the unknown.
In conclusion, For A Thirteenth Birthday is a beautifully crafted poem that speaks to the universal experience of growing up. The poem offers words of wisdom and encouragement to a young girl who is celebrating her thirteenth birthday, and it encourages her to embrace who she is and to strive to become the person she wants to be. The poem speaks to the ideas of change and the passage of time, and it encourages us all to take on new challenges and to embrace the unknown. Overall, For A Thirteenth Birthday is a powerful message of hope and perseverance that is relevant to all of us, regardless of our age.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
For A Thirteenth Birthday: A Poem of Growth and Change
Lisel Mueller's poem "For A Thirteenth Birthday" is a beautiful and poignant exploration of the transition from childhood to adolescence. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, Mueller captures the complex emotions and experiences that come with this pivotal moment in a young person's life.
The poem begins with a description of the speaker's childhood, a time of innocence and simplicity. The speaker remembers playing with dolls and imagining herself as a princess, a time when "the world was hers for the imagining." This idyllic image is quickly shattered, however, as the speaker acknowledges the harsh reality of growing up. She notes that "the days of wine and roses" are over, and that she must now face the challenges and responsibilities of adulthood.
The poem then shifts to a description of the speaker's present state, on the cusp of adolescence. She is "half child, half grown," caught between two worlds and unsure of her place in either. She longs for the freedom and independence of adulthood, but is also afraid of the unknown and the loss of the familiar. This tension is captured beautifully in the line "I am not ready for anything to happen / to the body that yesterday was a child's."
As the poem progresses, the speaker begins to embrace the changes that are coming. She acknowledges that she must leave behind the safety and security of childhood, but also recognizes the excitement and possibility that come with growing up. She imagines herself as a bird, ready to take flight and explore the world, and declares that "I am ready to be fifteen." This declaration is a powerful statement of agency and self-determination, as the speaker takes control of her own destiny and embraces the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Throughout the poem, Mueller uses vivid imagery and metaphor to convey the complex emotions and experiences of adolescence. The image of the bird, for example, is a powerful symbol of freedom and possibility, while the line "I am not ready for anything to happen / to the body that yesterday was a child's" captures the fear and uncertainty that come with physical changes. The poem is also notable for its use of repetition, particularly in the refrain "I am ready to be fifteen." This repetition serves to reinforce the speaker's determination and resolve, while also highlighting the central theme of growth and change.
Overall, "For A Thirteenth Birthday" is a beautiful and moving poem that captures the essence of adolescence with grace and power. Through its vivid imagery, powerful language, and poignant themes, the poem speaks to the universal experience of growing up and the challenges and opportunities that come with it. Whether read by a young person on the cusp of adolescence or an adult looking back on their own journey, this poem is sure to resonate deeply and inspire reflection and introspection.
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