QUESTION: EXPLORE THE WAYS IN WHICH CLARKE MAKES THE IDEA OF GROWING OLD SO TOUCHING
ANSWER: The renowned Gillian Clarke has written the aforementioned poem, ‘MY BOX’. In essence, this poem talks about a gift given from a man to a woman. However, it also symbolically talks about how people and their relationships evolve over time. With the help of various literary devices such as metaphors, asyndeton, polysyndeton, harsh and soft sounds, and vibrant imagery, Clarke has successfully made the idea of growing old moving.
Clarke establishes the theme of love and togetherness in this poem by introducing the box as ‘my lover’s gift to me’. The repeated reference to the box as ‘my’ depicts how Clarke cherished this ordinary box. The description of the box as ‘golden’ suggests how an ‘oak’ box is as precious as gold for her. Clarke is deeply attached to this box because it had been made out of love for her. This may also imply how Clarke and her lover have a strong bond even in their youthful days. The youth in Clarke can also be observed when in the line ‘of brass and a bright key’. A reader can recognize the deliberate omission of a word between ‘bright’ and ‘key’, which may have been used to elaborate upon the youthfulness of the poet at this point in time. The fact that a ‘lock’ has been put on the box reveals how it was something to be treasured. Moreover, it could also mean that only Clarke had the ‘key’ to unlock her lover’s heart. The usage of the heavy metal of ‘brass’ and the adjective ‘bright’ depicts the depth of emotions even in the immature stages of relationship. Furthermore, the usage of words such as ‘engraved’ and ‘heavy’ imply how their bond had cemented in its initial stages, maybe because of the love expressed though the gifting of this box. Moreover, the usage of polysyndeton, repetition of the word ‘and’ suggest how one must continually toil and work hard towards establishing the roots of one’s relationship. Alternatively, there must exist mutual respect and appreciation from the very beginning till the end. This lays foundation for Clarke and her lover’s relationship in their early days.
The idea of growing old and storing memories can be seen as the poem progresses. Despite the box being ‘golden’, it contains ‘black books’. This contrast between bright and dull colours highlights how not everything was merry. Their relationship had its crests and troughs however; it had withstood the barrier of time and flourished. Harsh sounds and the color ‘black’ in the may also indicate that there existed secrets in this relationship, something that must be hid from the outside world. The ‘twelve’ books mentioned are presumably her journals. This shows how life was short and all her accounts could be logged into just twelve books. Concurrently, the pronoun ‘we’ implies how, as they aged, they acquired a state of togetherness.
As time progressed this couple grew older, they started taking their relationship a step further. Their perpetual efforts made each step they took together a memorable one. In each ordinary step of life, such as ‘planted[ing] a garden’, they found bliss. Birds have been mentioned, as they are a symbol of positivity, allowing Clarke wants to re-enforce, how her relationship grew and never deteriorated. The tasks taken on by the partners may symbolize how their bond strengthened and was ever-growing. The depiction of everyday tasks using vibrant imagery shows how they couple themselves matured in their relationship. The phrase ‘planted a golden tree’ could signify life, and how they had kids. Throughout the poem, Clarke has shown herself aging, and how her life became happier in this process, thus, successfully making the idea of growing old so moving.
In the last stanza, it is pretty evident that Clarke has reached the final stages of her life. The change in tone and pace of the poem suggests how Clarke has now grown old. She now keeps her box ‘open’ for people to read. They pronoun ‘you’ is directed towards her husband, which is very unconventional as one considers the male to die before the female, and Clarke is quoting the opposite. A reference to ‘them’ could mean her offspring, and how Clarke wants her children to remember their parents with fond memories. Moreover, she wants ‘them’ to learn from her past experiences. The bond between Clarke and her lover is further amplified, as Clarke wants them to be together even in afterlife. In addition, the asyndeton technique suggests hurriedness in her writings and rushed or incomplete expressions; maybe suggesting that time is against her now. Subsequently, the line ‘how everything is slowly made, how slowly things made me’ talks about their relationship and how they achieved its pinnacle after a lot of hard work. This strong, emotional statement indicates how life is made of both the yin and the yang, and how it’s incomplete without both happy and sand memories. Lastly, She wants the reader to know how her relationship was as strong and deep-rooted as ‘a tree’ however, as time progressed, she managed to turn in this into a special ‘golden tree’. It also shows how her life started and ended with the same notion and at the same junction. Alternatively, ‘a tree’ could refer to Clarke’s family tree and the ‘golden tree’ could be a metaphor of love. How a seed has cheerful and miserable experiences, before flourishing into something strong and beautiful. Thus, despite nearing death and being so old, Clarke has successfully managed to make this thought joyful.
Throughout the poem, I believe that Clarke wants the wants the woman to grow old. Each stanza shows a progress in her life. And with each small step, her relationship grows slowly. The last stanza talks about how Clarke may leave the world physically however, her experiences will live in her books. I think that Clarke wants the reader to know how life is short, the happy and the sad moments pass quickly, but its their memories outlive them.
Thus, with the help of various literary devices such as metaphors, asyndeton, polysyndeton, harsh and soft sounds, and vibrant imagery, Clarke has successfully made the idea of growing old moving.