'Saturday At The Canal' by Gary Soto

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I was hoping to be happy by seventeen.
School was a sharp check mark in the roll book,
An obnoxious tuba playing at noon because our team
Was going to win at night. The teachers were
Too close to dying to understand. The hallways
Stank of poor grades and unwashed hair. Thus,
A friend and I sat watching the water on Saturday,
Neither of us talking much, just warming ourselves
By hurling large rocks at the dusty ground
And feeling awful because San Francisco was a postcard
On a bedroom wall. We wanted to go there,
Hitchhike under the last migrating birds
And be with people who knew more than three chords
On a guitar. We didn't drink or smoke,
But our hair was shoulder length, wild when
The wind picked up and the shadows of
This loneliness gripped loose dirt. By bus or car,
By the sway of train over a long bridge,
We wanted to get out. The years froze
As we sat on the bank. Our eyes followed the water,
White-tipped but dark underneath, racing out of town.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Saturday At The Canal: A Critical Analysis

Wowza! Hold onto your hats folks, because we're about to dive deep into the world of Gary Soto's classic poem, "Saturday At The Canal". This beautiful piece of literature takes us on a journey through the eyes of a young boy as he spends a lazy day at the canal. But don't be fooled by its seemingly simple premise, because this poem is bursting with themes, imagery, and symbolism that will leave you feeling all kinds of emotions. So grab a cup of tea, get cozy, and let's explore this gem of a poem.


Before we start dissecting this masterpiece, let's first take a look at the poem as a whole. "Saturday At The Canal" is a 40-line poem written in free verse. It follows a young boy as he spends a day at the canal, fishing and soaking up the sun. The poem is divided into three stanzas, with each stanza focusing on a different aspect of the boy's day.

In the first stanza, we see the boy setting up his fishing gear and getting ready to spend the day at the canal. The second stanza takes us through the boy's observations of his surroundings - the dragonflies, the water, and the fish. Finally, in the third stanza, we see the boy packing up and leaving the canal, feeling content and happy.


Now that we have a general idea of the poem's structure, let's dive into the themes that Soto explores in "Saturday At The Canal". One of the most prominent themes in the poem is the relationship between humans and nature. Throughout the poem, we see the boy interacting with the natural world around him - he fishes in the canal, observes the dragonflies, and feels the sun on his skin. Soto portrays nature as a peaceful and calming force, something that can help us escape from the chaos of the world.

Another theme that Soto explores in the poem is the concept of youth and innocence. The boy in the poem is young and carefree, spending his day leisurely fishing and enjoying the outdoors. Soto highlights the beauty and simplicity of childhood, before the weight of the world takes hold and innocence is lost.

Imagery and Symbolism

One of the most striking aspects of "Saturday At The Canal" is the rich imagery and symbolism that Soto employs throughout the poem. Let's take a closer look at some of the most notable examples.


The dragonflies that the boy observes in the second stanza are a powerful symbol in the poem. They represent the fleeting nature of life and the passage of time. Dragonflies have a short lifespan, and their presence in the poem serves as a reminder that our time on this earth is limited. Additionally, the dragonflies are described as "bluegreen, / Translucent and clear" - this imagery evokes a sense of fragility and delicacy, further emphasizing the idea of life's fleeting nature.

The Canal

The canal itself is also an important symbol in the poem. It represents a space of tranquility and peace, a respite from the chaos of the world. The fact that the boy chooses to spend his day at the canal shows that he recognizes the value of taking a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Additionally, the canal is a metaphor for the passage of time - the water flowing steadily represents the constant movement of life.


Fishing is a recurring motif throughout the poem, and it holds a great deal of significance. On the surface, fishing represents the boy's leisurely activity for the day. However, it also serves as a symbol for the act of waiting. Fishing requires patience and stillness, qualities that are often difficult to cultivate in today's fast-paced world. By choosing to spend his day fishing, the boy is actively engaging in a practice that encourages mindfulness and reflection.

Language and Tone

Finally, let's take a look at the language and tone that Soto employs in "Saturday At The Canal". The poem is written in free verse, which gives Soto a great deal of freedom to experiment with language and structure. The poem flows smoothly, with each line building on the one before it to create a sense of unity and coherence.

Soto's tone throughout the poem is peaceful and contemplative. He uses language that is simple yet evocative, creating a sense of calm that permeates the entire poem. The boy's observations of the world around him are presented in a detached yet reverent manner, emphasizing the beauty and importance of the natural world.


In conclusion, "Saturday At The Canal" is a stunning poem that explores a wide range of themes and ideas. Through rich imagery, symbolism, and language, Soto creates a world that is both peaceful and thought-provoking. The poem encourages us to take a step back from the chaos of everyday life and appreciate the simple beauty of the world around us. So the next time you're feeling overwhelmed, take a cue from the boy in the poem - grab your fishing gear and head out to the nearest canal. Who knows what kind of beauty you might discover?

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Saturday At The Canal: A Poem That Celebrates Life

Gary Soto's poem "Saturday At The Canal" is a beautiful piece of literature that captures the essence of life. The poem is a celebration of the simple pleasures that we often take for granted. It reminds us that life is not just about achieving big goals, but also about enjoying the small moments that make it worth living.

The poem is set on a Saturday afternoon at a canal, where the speaker and his friends are spending their day. The speaker describes the scene in vivid detail, painting a picture of a lazy, carefree day. The water in the canal is described as "green and silver," and the trees that line its banks are "heavy with fruit." The speaker and his friends are lounging on the grass, enjoying the warm sun and the cool breeze.

The poem is full of sensory details that bring the scene to life. The speaker describes the sound of the water as it "slaps against the concrete," and the smell of the grass as it "tickles our noses." He also describes the taste of the fruit that they are eating, and the feel of the sun on their skin.

One of the most striking things about the poem is its sense of nostalgia. The speaker is clearly looking back on this day with fondness, and he describes it in a way that makes the reader feel like they are there with him. He talks about the "laughter and shouts" of his friends, and the way that they "chased the dragonflies." He also describes the way that they "talked about girls," and the way that they "dreamed of the future."

The poem is also full of symbolism. The canal itself is a symbol of life, with its twists and turns and unexpected currents. The fruit on the trees is a symbol of the abundance of life, and the dragonflies are a symbol of the fleeting nature of youth. The speaker's friends are also symbolic, representing the different paths that life can take.

One of the most powerful lines in the poem is when the speaker says, "We knew we were alive." This line captures the essence of the poem, which is a celebration of life itself. The speaker and his friends are not doing anything particularly exciting or noteworthy, but they are fully present in the moment, enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

The poem also has a sense of universality. While it is set in a specific time and place, the themes that it explores are timeless. Everyone can relate to the feeling of enjoying a lazy day with friends, or the sense of nostalgia that comes with looking back on those moments.

In conclusion, "Saturday At The Canal" is a beautiful poem that celebrates life in all its simplicity and complexity. It reminds us that life is not just about achieving big goals, but also about enjoying the small moments that make it worth living. The poem is full of sensory details and symbolism, and it captures the essence of youth and the fleeting nature of time. It is a poem that will resonate with readers of all ages, and it is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the beauty of life.

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