'Adolescence' by Frank Bidart

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He stared up into my eyes with a look
I can almost see now.

He had that look in his eyes
that bore right into mine.

I could sense that he knew I was
envious of what he was doing—; and knew that I'd

always wish I had known at the time
what he was doing was something I'd always

crave in later life, just as he did.

He was enjoying what he was doing.
The look was one of pure rapture.

He was gloating. He knew.

I still remember his look.

Submitted by Michael Schiavo

Editor 1 Interpretation

Adolescence by Frank Bidart: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Are you ready to dive into the world of a young boy's inner turmoil as he navigates the complex terrain of adolescence? Frank Bidart's poem, "Adolescence," takes us on a journey of self-discovery, confusion, and vulnerability. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, language, and structure of the poem and unpack its deeper meanings.


At its core, "Adolescence" is a poem about identity and the struggle to find one's place in the world. The speaker is a young boy on the cusp of adulthood, grappling with his changing body, desires, and emotions. He is uncertain about his place in society and struggles to find connection and meaning in his relationships with others.

One of the central themes of the poem is the tension between the desire for independence and the fear of loneliness. The speaker is torn between his desire to assert his independence and his fear of being alone. He longs for connection and intimacy but is afraid of revealing his true self to others.

Another key theme of the poem is the struggle to reconcile one's inner desires with society's expectations. The speaker is grappling with his sexuality and desires, which are at odds with the heteronormative expectations of his society. He is afraid of being ostracized and rejected by his peers and family if he were to reveal his true self.


Bidart's language in "Adolescence" is rich, vivid, and sensual. He uses sensory details to create a vivid portrait of the speaker's inner world. For example, in the opening stanza, he describes the "sweet / scent of puberty" and the "strange / half-real, half-imagined / limbs" that the speaker is growing into. These descriptions evoke the awkwardness and discomfort that often come with physical changes during adolescence.

The language throughout the poem is also heavily metaphorical. Bidart uses metaphors to explore the speaker's inner landscape and give voice to his emotions. For example, he describes the speaker's "body [as] a grave / that sprouts" and his "mind [as] a room / that can't be entered." These metaphors capture the speaker's sense of alienation from his own body and mind.


"Adolescence" is structured as a series of vignettes, each capturing a moment in the speaker's journey towards adulthood. The poem is divided into four sections, each with its own distinct focus. The first section focuses on the physical changes the speaker is experiencing, while the second section explores his relationship with his father. The third section delves into his sexual desires and the fear of rejection that comes with them, while the final section examines his relationship with his mother.

The structure of the poem reflects the speaker's sense of fragmentation and the disjointed nature of his experiences. The vignettes are not presented in a linear fashion, but rather jump back and forth in time. This mirrors the speaker's fragmented sense of self and his struggle to make sense of his experiences.


At its heart, "Adolescence" is a poem about the universal experience of growing up and the struggle to find one's place in the world. While the speaker's experiences are specific to his own time and place, his emotions and desires are universal. We can all relate to the feelings of uncertainty, fear, and longing that the speaker experiences.

One of the key messages of the poem is the importance of self-acceptance and self-love. The speaker's struggles stem from his fear of rejection and his desire to conform to societal expectations. However, it is only when he learns to accept and love himself that he is able to find peace and connection with others.

Another important message of the poem is the need for empathy and understanding in our relationships with others. The speaker's relationships with his father and mother are complex and fraught with tension. However, it is only when he is able to see them as human beings with their own struggles and desires that he is able to find a sense of connection with them.


Frank Bidart's "Adolescence" is a powerful and poignant exploration of the universal experience of growing up. Through his use of vivid language, rich metaphors, and fragmented structure, he captures the complexity and pain of adolescence. However, the poem is not just a lament for lost innocence; it is also a call for self-acceptance, empathy, and understanding. In the end, the speaker learns that it is only by embracing his true self that he can find peace and connection with others.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Adolescence: A Poem of Self-Discovery and Identity

Frank Bidart's poem "Adolescence" is a powerful exploration of the tumultuous journey of self-discovery and identity formation that characterizes the teenage years. Through vivid imagery, intense emotions, and a masterful use of language, Bidart captures the confusion, pain, and beauty of this transformative period in a young person's life.

The poem begins with a stark image of a young boy standing alone in a field, surrounded by darkness and silence. The boy is described as "a stranger to the light," suggesting a sense of alienation and disconnection from the world around him. This image sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is marked by a sense of isolation and longing for connection.

As the poem progresses, the boy's inner turmoil is revealed through a series of vivid and often disturbing images. He is described as "a creature of hunger and rage," consumed by a desire for something he cannot name. He is haunted by the memory of his mother's voice, which he hears "echoing in the dark," and by the fear of his own mortality, which he confronts in a series of violent and surreal visions.

Despite the darkness and despair that permeate the poem, there is also a sense of hope and possibility. The boy's hunger and rage are not simply destructive forces, but also a source of energy and creativity. He is described as "a god in the making," suggesting that his struggles are part of a larger process of growth and transformation.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is Bidart's use of language. His words are carefully chosen and arranged to create a powerful and evocative effect. He uses repetition, alliteration, and other poetic devices to create a sense of rhythm and momentum that propels the poem forward. At times, his language is almost musical, as in the lines "the sound of the wind in the trees / is like the sound of the sea in a shell."

Another notable feature of the poem is its use of imagery. Bidart's descriptions are vivid and often startling, creating a sense of immediacy and intensity. For example, he describes the boy's hunger as "a black hole / that swallows everything," and his fear of death as "a knife / that cuts through the fabric of the world." These images are both powerful and unsettling, conveying the depth of the boy's emotions and the intensity of his experience.

At its core, "Adolescence" is a poem about the search for identity and meaning in a world that can be confusing and overwhelming. The boy's struggles are universal, and his journey is one that many of us can relate to. Through his words, Bidart captures the complexity and beauty of this process, reminding us that even in our darkest moments, there is always the possibility of growth and transformation.

In conclusion, Frank Bidart's poem "Adolescence" is a powerful and evocative exploration of the journey of self-discovery and identity formation that characterizes the teenage years. Through vivid imagery, intense emotions, and a masterful use of language, Bidart captures the confusion, pain, and beauty of this transformative period in a young person's life. The poem is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the complexity and richness of the human experience, and a reminder that even in our darkest moments, there is always the possibility of growth and transformation.

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