Kim Addonizio’s “First Poem for You” and William Meredith’s “the Illiterate” Analysis

Deep love, passionate desire, and intriguing mystery are conveyed through the use of literary devices such as symbolism and metaphor in Kim Addonizio’s “First Poem for You” and William Meredith’s “The Illiterate” and aide in supporting the themes that intimate relationships can be both intriguing and frightening at the same time. Love is conveyed in “The Illiterate” through the simple idea of a letter. The letter is used to symbolize a woman. This man has never received a letter from anyone and therefore one can conclude that he has never been with a woman and is unsure and anxious to find out what the letter, or the woman, means.

The letter in the poem is a symbol and also a metaphor for love and the beginning stages of becoming intimate with another person. The use of a man receiving a letter is a simple concept and therefore easy for the reader to understand. Creating a metaphor takes a potentially complicated situation filled with feelings and emotions and simplifies it into someone simply receiving a letter and not knowing what it means or how to read it. In the same way, the man’s tattoos in “First Poem for You” symbolize love and mystery.

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They are pictures on a man’s skin that represent his inner being without him having to show the woman who he is or wear his emotions on his sleeve. The woman is both intrigued and intimidated by his tattoos because they represent the idea of permanence. Therefore, she is frightened for the relationship to potentially become permanent though she is curious and intrigued. One can conclude that she desires to know more about the man but these tattoos seem to be one of the only things on the outside of the man that reveal something deeper on the inside.

Though these are two different poems, the topics of love, desire, and mystery within them are very similar. The letters and the tattoos both work together to support the idea that being in a relationship with another person evokes a number of emotions. It can be tender and sweet but it can also be intimidating and challenging. These poems can reach and personally speak to a wide variety of people because most can relate to the range of emotions and uncertainty that comes with being in a relationship with someone.

Symbolism is shown in “The Illiterate” through the letter that the man receives for the first time. This letter is symbolizing a woman and the fact that he has never been with a woman before and is not sure how to go about things in a way that will make her proud to be with him as well. He is not sure what it means as he says “Touching your goodness, I am like a man/ Who turns a letter over in his hand/ And you might think this was because the hand/ Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man/ Has never had a letter from anyone” (Meredith, “The Illiterate” 1-5).

This is how the poem begins. The letter symbolizes the woman whom the man cannot read which gives insight to the title: “The Illiterate. ” Obviously he adores this woman because he says he is touching her “goodness. ” He describes turning the letter over in his hand which also suggests that he is physically touching this woman as well. Also, the choice of using a letter to symbolize the woman conveys a certain gentleness and curiosity that he has with her because he cannot read the letter or know what it contains on the inside.

When one receives a letter it is usually something precious from someone special and it is opened and read with care and attention to every word. Through the choice to use a letter to symbolize the woman, the reader can see that the man is very curious to know much more about her. In “First Poem for You” the tattoos are used as symbols just as the letter is in “The Illiterate. ” The specific symbol chosen in this poem to represent a relationship between and man and a woman is a tattoo.

This is certainly chosen purposefully because the process of getting something tattooed permanently on your body is painful! The ink is literally sewn into your skin with a needle. Though the process is painful, he still gets the tattoo and has more than one. This specific symbol is used because no relationship exists and prospers without some kind of pain. Therefore, if both people want to be in the relationship they will press on through the pain.

In both poems symbolism is used to magnify potential flaws in relationships but present the argument that though there may be pain it is still worth perusing. Also the use of metaphor is intertwined with the usage of symbolism because they both work to convey the message that relationships can be intriguing and intimidating. The metaphor is comparing the letter to a woman. However, the man cannot read the letter so he must shamefully look to others to tell him what the words mean. The man “has no other means/ To find out what it says than to ask someone” (Meredith, “The Illiterate” 7-8).

This is literally saying that he has never received a letter from anyone and does not have any other way of knowing the meaning of the letter than to ask someone who has received a letter in the past and is able to read the words. Metaphorically this shows that he is embarrassed to admit that he has never been with a woman and the only way to know what the meaning of their relationship is to ask someone who has more experience than he does. Metaphor is also used in “The Illiterate. ” Again, the use of metaphor is used to compliment the symbolism.

The comparison is between permanent tattoos on a man’s body and the actual relationship between the man and the woman speaking. The tattoo’s are permanent pictures on this man’s body that will “last/ until you’re seared to ashes” (Addonizio, “First Poem for You” 10-11). The permanence that these tattoos represent both frightens and intrigues the woman. The fact that she mentions that the tattoos will stay with him until his death gives them a negative connotation when comparing tattoos to their relationship.

However, she goes on to say “So I touch them in the dark; but touch them, trying” (Addonizio, “First Poem for You” 14). This quote shows that she is afraid of permanence as far as their relationship goes. Therefore, it is much easier for her to speak about his tattoos because unlike his love they can never change. However, to acquire tattoos that are permanent one must go through pain. In the same way, no relationship is easy or painless. The word “trying” could mean that she is willing to try to commit to permanence in their relationship as the tattoos themselves are permanent.

Metaphor is utilized in each poem to simplify each complicated relationship while still providing a deeper meaning to a letter and tattoos. Through the use of symbolism and metaphor in “The Illiterate” and “First Poem for You”, William Meredith and Kim Addonizio support each other’s claims that relationships between lovers can be extremely complicated and also rewarding at times. The use of these literary devices work together to convey the ideas of love, desire, and mystery.

The specific symbol of a letter addresses the fact that this man is illiterate when it comes to handling and reading this woman for the first time. The tattoos are used to show that if one wants something bad enough, such as a tattoo or to be in a relationship, he or she is going to have to go through obstacles, trials, and pain to get to where they want to be. Using metaphor also simplifies each situation while still conveying the deeper meanings of love and uncertainly. Though being in a relationship may be difficult and painful, in the end the letter could be a love letter and the tattoo just might be perfect.

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Kim Addonizio’s “First Poem for You” and William Meredith’s “the Illiterate” Analysis. (2016, Dec 21). Retrieved from