'The Blue Bowl' by Jane Kenyon

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Like primitives we buried the cat
with his bowl. Bare-handed
we scraped sand and gravel
back into the hole.
They fell with a hiss
and thud on his side,
on his long red fur, the white feathers
between his toes, and his
long, not to say aquiline, nose.

We stood and brushed each other off.
There are sorrows keener than these.

Silent the rest of the day, we worked,
ate, stared, and slept. It stormed
all night; now it clears, and a robin
burbles from a dripping bush
like the neighbor who means well
but always says the wrong thing.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Blue Bowl: A Literary Criticism

Have you ever read a poem that left you feeling like you've been hit by a truck, in a good way? That's exactly how I felt after reading Jane Kenyon's "The Blue Bowl". It's one of those poems that manages to pack so much emotion and depth into just a few lines. So, buckle up, because we're about to dive into a detailed literary criticism and interpretation of this classic poem.

The Poem

First, let's take a look at the poem itself:

Upended, the ten-gallon milk can
drips fat plug of dung
into the dinner bucket.
Outside, above the hoop of the pump,
the black snake lengthens

into the sunlight. From the cellar window
a tart r
apple falls
into the soft-fingered grass.
The children
stand at the kitchen table
eating thick slices of bread
with cold milk. They turn
to watch the snake.
Their fingers
on the greasy page
of the open book.

The Interpretation

At first glance, "The Blue Bowl" seems like a simple description of a rural scene. But as we delve deeper, we begin to see the layers of meaning that Kenyon has woven into this poem.

The opening lines set the scene: a ten-gallon milk can has been upended, and the "fat plug of dung" is dripping into the dinner bucket. This immediately creates a sense of disgust and unease in the reader. We're not used to seeing this sort of thing in our sanitized modern lives. It also sets the stage for the theme of decay that runs through the poem.

Next, we're introduced to the black snake, who is "lengthening his slim ribbon into the sunlight" above the pump. The snake is a classic symbol of temptation and sin, going all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Here, the snake represents the darkness and danger that lurks just outside the safe, domestic space of the kitchen.

From there, Kenyon shifts our attention to the cellar window, where a tart apple falls into the grass. This is a classic image of the fall of man, of temptation leading to sin. The juxtaposition of the apple and the snake creates a sense of foreboding. We know that something bad is going to happen.

And then we're back to the children, eating their bread and milk. They turn to watch the snake, leaving "white trails on the greasy page of the open book." This is where the poem takes a turn, and we see the true heart of it.

The "greasy page" represents the messy, dirty reality of life. The children are leaving their mark on it, just as the dung and the snake and the apple have all left their marks. But they're doing it while reading, while learning. They're finding joy and beauty in the midst of the decay.

This is where the blue bowl comes in. It's not mentioned explicitly in the poem, but it's there in the background, a symbol of the beauty and grace that can be found in even the dirtiest, messiest parts of life. The blue bowl is a beacon of hope, a reminder that there is always something to hold onto, even in the face of decay and temptation.

The Literary Criticism

So, what makes "The Blue Bowl" such a powerful poem? Let's take a closer look at some of the literary devices that Kenyon uses to create this masterpiece.


One of the most striking things about this poem is the vivid imagery. Kenyon paints a picture of rural life that is both beautiful and disgusting. We can see the dung dripping into the bucket, the snake stretching out in the sun, the apple falling from the window. But we can also see the children's fingers leaving trails on the greasy page, the white milk in the blue bowl. The imagery is so effective because it's both specific and universal. We may not have grown up on a farm, but we can all relate to the messiness of life.


Kenyon uses symbolism to great effect in "The Blue Bowl". The snake, the apple, the blue bowl - all of these objects carry a deeper meaning beyond their literal interpretation. The snake represents temptation and danger, the apple represents the fall of man, and the blue bowl represents hope and beauty. By layering these symbols into the poem, Kenyon creates a rich tapestry of meaning that rewards careful reading.


One of the most powerful literary devices that Kenyon employs is juxtaposition. By placing seemingly unrelated images next to each other - the dung and the snake, the apple and the children - she creates a sense of tension and unease that permeates the poem. This tension is what draws us in and keeps us engaged, as we try to make sense of the disparate elements.


Finally, it's worth noting the form of "The Blue Bowl". It's a free-verse poem, with no strict meter or rhyme scheme. This allows Kenyon to play with the line breaks and the rhythm of the poem, creating a sense of movement and flow that mimics the messiness of life. The lack of formal structure also allows the symbols and imagery to stand out more starkly.


"The Blue Bowl" is a remarkable poem that rewards close reading and interpretation. By using vivid imagery, powerful symbolism, and effective juxtaposition, Jane Kenyon creates a world that is both beautiful and disgusting, hopeful and despairing. It's a reminder that even in the midst of decay and temptation, there is always something to hold onto - a blue bowl, a book, a slice of bread. As readers, we're left with a sense of unease and wonder, of disgust and beauty. It's a rare poem that can evoke such a range of emotions, and "The Blue Bowl" does it with grace and skill.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Blue Bowl: A Poem of Life and Death

The Blue Bowl, written by Jane Kenyon, is a classic poem that explores the themes of life and death, love and loss, and the beauty and fragility of existence. In this 24-line poem, Kenyon uses simple language and vivid imagery to create a powerful and moving meditation on the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death.

The poem begins with a description of a blue bowl, which is used to hold water for the speaker's dog. The bowl is a symbol of life, of the simple pleasures and necessities that sustain us. The blue color of the bowl suggests the purity and clarity of water, and the calmness and serenity that comes with it. The bowl is also a symbol of the speaker's love for her dog, and the care and attention she gives to him.

However, the poem takes a dark turn when the speaker notices a dead mouse floating in the bowl. The mouse is a symbol of death, of the fragility and vulnerability of life. The contrast between the blue bowl and the dead mouse creates a powerful image of the transience of life, of how quickly and unexpectedly it can be snuffed out.

The speaker's reaction to the dead mouse is one of sadness and grief. She mourns the loss of the mouse, and the realization that death is an inevitable part of life. She also reflects on her own mortality, and the fact that one day she too will die. The poem thus becomes a meditation on the human condition, on the universal experience of life and death.

The final lines of the poem are particularly poignant. The speaker says that she will bury the mouse in the garden, and that she will continue to use the blue bowl to hold water for her dog. This suggests a sense of continuity, of life going on despite the inevitability of death. The blue bowl becomes a symbol of resilience, of the ability to endure and carry on in the face of loss and grief.

Overall, The Blue Bowl is a powerful and moving poem that explores the themes of life and death, love and loss, and the beauty and fragility of existence. Through simple language and vivid imagery, Jane Kenyon creates a meditation on the human condition that is both universal and deeply personal. The poem reminds us of the preciousness of life, and the need to cherish and appreciate it while we can. It also reminds us of the inevitability of death, and the importance of accepting it as a natural part of the cycle of life.

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