Jimmy Santiago Baca, a Hispanic Heritage Award Honoree for Literature, had a “history of delinquency” and started his writing career when he was in prison (Jimmy Santiago Baca 2015, para. 1). This man knows what it feels like when you can offer another person nothing but a poem.
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The work “I am offering this poem” is about poetry and love. The refrain “I love you” is separated graphically: that is, its indenting is bigger than that of the rest of the lines. The words are repeated four times, and each time they are detached from the remainder of the poem highlighted and emphasized. This is the main message that the character wants his beloved to grasp; it is repeated as a mantra, a prayer. The main purpose of prayer is to get some kind of protection from unknown powers, and, according to the character, his love in the form of the poem can protect his lover.
It should be pointed out that the words chosen for the title are also crucial. The character does not “give” his poem to the beloved one; instead, he merely offers, as if he is ready to have his gift rejected. While he laments the fact that he has nothing else to give, he believes that his beloved should treasure these words. As the poem progresses, the character metaphorically proves that his gift is worth keeping.
The poem and the love conveyed by it are compared to warm clothes, food, and directions that can lead the beloved one to a shelter if she is lost in a forest. At the same time, with every explanation, the character’s humbleness disappears as if he begins to believe in the worthiness of his gift. In the end, his musings led him to the conclusion that the love conveyed by the poem is the only thing that one needs to live “inside”. This idea, no doubt, is the main idea of the poem, and it is contained in the last stanza that consists of shorter lines than the rest of the poem and is, therefore, emphasized.
It should be mentioned that the opposition of the “inside” and “outside” is very strong in the poem. The outside is characterized by the cold, the wilderness, the dense trees. All of these appear to be a metaphorical image of the world that “no longer cares if you live or die” (Baca, 1990, p. 52). It is not surprising, therefore, that the character attempts to protect the beloved one from it with the help of his love that is, by contrast, warm.
To be more precise, it is warm as a coat, a pair of socks, or a fire in the cabin. Moreover, the warmness of this love is not supposed only to hide the beloved woman from the cold, indifferent world. Another metaphor that I find to be the most powerful involves envisioning love as a pot of yellow corn. This epithet is the only spot of color in the poem, the warm yellow color, and it corresponds to the rest of love-related imagery perfectly. The idea of gaining sustenance from love supports the main idea of the poem. It is the sole sustenance that is meant: most certainly it is hope and the feeling of belonging that helps one to live through a crisis and find a way to one’s fireplace.
Still, I would like to point out one feature of the poems’ last stanza structure. By ending the second line with the word “to live”, the author tricks us for a moment into thinking that the character is romantic to the point of being dreamy. The rest of the stanza narrows the idea to the point of living “inside”, and yet, this momentarily lapse in judgment brings out the concepts of living inside and outside and contrasts them powerfully. At this point, the character is certain that his gift is worthy. After all, he does not believe that living outside is possible without staying alive inside.
Baca, J. (1990). Immigrants in Our Own Land and Selected Early Poems. New York, NY: New Directions.
Jimmy Santiago Baca. (2015). Web.