The writer uses a series of lush sensual series of contrasts to highlight his personal sense of loneliness and isolation indicating that emotions are more valuable than physical enjoyment.
The poem starts in the autumn garden as the writer is pulling the last young onions from the cold brown ground. The closing day flames and he glimpses a cardinal. After pulling the onions, he washes them and drinks the water flowing out from the icy metal spigot. This imagery provides a series of acute contrasts between many of the poem’s elements. Young onions have bright green tops that serve as a color contrast to the cardinal, a bright red bird, flaming color of the waning day in the maple trees that, at that season would also be a mix of flame colors from gold to scarlet. All of this is set against the bare empty garden. This is an important place setting to establish a series of contrasts that becomes increasingly important though the poem and concludes in the final sentence.
The writer muses back to time spent walking with his father. The season is not mentioned however, the windfall pears would place it as the summer time. He mentions that it was “years back” reverses the time line to an earlier season, perhaps even an earlier year. The glistening juice and the glazed hornet indicates that the walk took place earlier in the day. He particularly states that although he does not remember the conversation he clearly remembers the visual elements, how his father looked and moved along with vivid images of the pear and the hornet.
The next stanza moves forward to a time earlier in the day when his thought he saw his father waving to him from the “deep green shadows.” Halting his impulse to wave, he moves closer to discover the shadow image is only a shovel. In this image and its placement in the poem, he seems to be moving more towards the elements of emotion and away from the sharp visual and sensual images formed by the contrasts of color, detail and temperature. This indicates how, as he matures, he has begun to become more aware of his emotional responses and putting less focus on the purely sensual, visual aspects. Because it employs a forward motion in time, from the earlier experience with his father that took place years ago it indicates it is part of his personal development as well.
The writer returns to a series of contrasts when he describes his dinner that has the color contrasts of green peas, shrimp and onions. Once again, we have those contrasting colors of green, the pink coral color of shrimp against a background of brown onions. This is accompanied by steaming rice. That provides a temperature contrast to the icy faucet he drank from while outside at the beginning of the poem. This placement is important in the structure of the poem because it provides a frame to bring focus to his longing for his father’s company. That is now set once again in the immediate, vivid, sensual present time.
The writer uses a series of lush sensual series of contrasts to highlight his personal sense of loneliness and isolation. The images are clearly defined and show he is sharply aware of the pleasures afforded by his surroundings, but for him it is not enough. The sense of loneliness and isolation evoked by the poem indicates that emotions are more valuable than physical enjoyment. He shows that when after he describes what will be a delicious dinner and closes with the words, “And my own loneliness. What more could I, a young man, want.” .
Lee, Li-Young. "Eating Alone." n.d.