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The poem Persimmons by Li-Young Lee (17) is one of the interesting examples of how the author uses words that are similar to speak about different concepts. The poet was also chosen since he is a representative of a mixed culture. While Lee knows English very well, the Chinese language has formed his cultural background along with the visionary elements carried from his home country. Persimmons carry the hint of Asian perception of harmony that is important in this world.
The main theme of the poem is the variety of the world’s elements, all of which have their meaning. The first stanza of the poem implies that the author is in the sixth grade. Children at this age are not skilled in using language to describe concepts that are abstract or unknown to them. This task is especially hard for the author, as his primary language is Chinese. He manages to get punished by the teacher for failing to distinguish between the persimmon and the precision.
The theme of persimmon as a fruit intersects with the cultural concept. While the first part of the poem describes its skin, meat, taste, and color, the second one reveals the meaning of this fruit to the author. He identifies it as the Chinese sun he is so familiar with that he is capable of drawing it with his eyes closed.
The poem is filled with language that works towards creating vivid imagery. The line “How to choose/ Persimmons. This is precision” emphasizes that the process of picking the right fruit is important for the author. Persimmons are not the most commonly known thing among food, especially to children and foreigners. However, the language of the poem easily lets readers guess what it is. The color identified as golden and warm refers to something resembling the sun. Persimmons require their skin to be peeled off before tasting the meat. When the author realizes that the teacher has brought the fruit that is not ripe, he decides to let others eat it and watch their facial expression. All this information put in words creates an image of the orange sweet fruit that can be enjoyed only when it is ripe.
Although the poem is narrated by a boy, the tone of it is rather sad. First, there is a disappointment by the teacher’s action who does not understand that the boy possesses critical thinking. She is focused only on the language and the rules that have to be applied when using words. However, the boy sees the application of each word in real life. The story that finishes the poem about his father going blind is truly heartbreaking. Even though he has lost his sight, the old man still remembers the texture of persimmons. He claims that he can paint them even without seeing the scroll. The comparison of persimmons to the ascent of a lover’s hair shows that love for a person and culture mean the same thing to an author.
It is a fact that Asian culture supports paternalism. Whether it is a parent or a teacher, and author of the Chinese origin would be expected to show respect for these figures. However, this cannot be fully traced in the poem. The boy does not find a connection with his teacher. The fact that she brings the fruit that is not ripe implies that she cannot understand the beauty of this world. There is a feeling of respect towards the father since this word is written with a capital letter. The deeper meaning behind this fact is that author relies not on authorities but on the worldview that includes the sense of beauty.
The poem lacks rhyme. This is a free verse, which is understandable since the Asian culture supports this type of poetics. The appropriate language is more important than the use of rhyme. Words like fight and fright are specifically chosen to show both differences and similarities. Although the teacher implies they have different meanings, the boy insists that one is always associated with the other. The same trend is identified with wren and yarn.
Analyzing the elements described above, it can be stated that the poem belongs to the lyrical genre. This is a type of poetry when an author expresses his or her feelings and emotions, which is usually done in the first person. Although there are not many conventional elements like the rhyme or the equal meter, the poem relies on the classical determinants of the lyrical genre. The language both supports the emotional tone and perceives the featured concepts as tools for a deeper understanding of the author’s longing for his culture.
Persimmons can be called a typical poem by Li-Young Lee. For instance, his other work From Blossoms features the same passion for nature (Lee 21). There, he describes the taste and texture of peaches that they ate on a dusty summer day. Once again, there is a description of sweetness and the rich flavor that makes those peaches so precious. There is also a deeper meaning when the author compares the sweetness of peaches with the beauty of life that has to be enjoyed every moment.
This comparison helps to understand the author’s philosophy. He implies that there is no need to chase the fake values dictated by society. Just like the language rules in school, they order people what has to be achieved in life. However, true harmony can only be found through observing and accepting nature and its beauty in the smallest details it has.
The works of Li-Young Lee are often claimed to be full of “simplicity, strength, and silence” as defined by popular resources (Li-Young Lee para. 2). The scholarly research goes further and identifies key themes that the author uses in his works. For instance, this is a recurring theme of his father who seemed to have a great influence on Lee’s life (Haralson 381). This figure is mentioned in such poems as Dreaming of Hair, The Gift, and Rain Diary. The conflict between the two cultures also seems to be persistent in Lee’s poetry. He brought his Chinese origin through his life and tried to make a valuable connection to both cultures. Thus, the scholarly works focus more on the cultural aspect of the author’s poetry, while the popular view includes an understanding of its beauty and emotional language.
The poetry by Li-Young Lee is a great example of a lyrical genre filled with emotions and passion for nature and life. Both popular and scholarly resources identify the influence of Chinese background on his works. Persimmon is an example of both the beauty of nature and the deeper meaning it carries in Asian culture.
Haralson, Eric L., editor. Encyclopedia of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century. Routledge, 2001.
Lee, Li-Young. Rose: Poems. BOA Editions, Ltd, 1986.
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Li-Young Lee. Wikipedia, 2016, Web.