Today’s poet, Lisel Mueller, did not have English as her native language, since she was born in Germany and only came to the USA in her mid teens when her family decided to escape from Nazi Germany. So this might explain why a number of her poems shine a light on some of the idiosyncracies of the English language, almost invisible to a native speaker, but obvious to someone with a fresh eye. And of course, by writing these poems, she opens our eyes to these curiosities of language.
The poem is entitled “Things”, about as anodyne a title as you could wish for, but what it does is highlight our use of the names of human body parts in referring to common inanimate objects. This is very cool.
What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.
We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,
and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.
Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.
As well as calling attention to this feature of our language, the poet gives it a human purpose, of comfort, security and familiarity.
This is a poem in which the content is all; there is no symmetrical structure, or clever rhyme scheme or rhythmic metre. But there is still plenty to enjoy.
The Poetry Dude