Many authors choose to write about nature because it is a universal idea and is timeless. Nature is something that is observed and experienced by everyone, and can therefore be understood by almost all people. Tess Gallagher is an author who has a tendency to write about nature, as seen through her poems, “Choices” and “Orange Sutra”. Gallagher’s symbolic use of nature can be seen in the poems “Choices” and “Orange Sutra”. Although the poems “Choices” and “Orange Sutra” have contrasting themes, they both use symbolic imagery of nature to help the reader understand the meaning of the poem.
In the poem “Choices,” Tess Gallagher expresses the boundless opportunity for growth that can be found in the world. The theme found in this poem is that life can be found in unexpected places and that this life is opportunity for growth and expansion. This can be seen through Gallagher’s use of the phrase “unseen nest where a mountain would be” (lines 10-12). This phrase is encouraging readers to look past the monotonous tasks of life to see the natural beauty of life that lies beyond it.
The poem “Orange Sutra,” has a much deeper and darker theme then can be seen in “Choices.” Within “Orange Sutra,” Gallagher uses natural imagery to compare the phases of the moon to the many phases of life that we encounter as humans on this planet. This can be seen through the many connections that Gallagher makes between the moon phases and the phases of life. For example, Gallagher uses the line “Its crescent admonishes lamentation as a temporary setback” (lines 11-12). This is comparing the dark struggles of life to the crescent phase of the moon. Gallagher also describes how the “fullness” (line 13) of the moon also occurs, just like there are good parts in life, along with the negative. This comparison of moon phases to human struggles is an example of figurative language, because Gallagher is symbolically comparing one thing to another. This use of figurative language adds to the effectiveness of Gallagher’s poetry because it helps the reader to understand the complicated message present within the poem. Overall, this poem is much darker and more complicated than the theme seen in “Choices.”
The poems “Choices” and “Orange Sutra” are complementary because they both use nature as a symbolic image. In “Choices”, Gallagher uses symbolic imagery of nature to show the boundless possibilities of life. The natural imagery that she uses includes mountains, birds, trees, nests, and snow. The reader is able to create a vivid picture through her specific word choice. In using these specific word choices, Gallagher is showing the poetic element of diction, or word choice. This can be seen in the phrase “clear a view to snow on the mountain” (lines 3-4), where Gallagher simply describes the natural imagery. These words are precisely chosen to conjure up a certain image within the mind of the reader. Gallagher may choose to use a nature to help her reader understand the poem because nature is a very universal idea which is present all over the globe and can be experienced by everyone. Nature doesn’t discriminate against who is watching, it is the same for all people. Therefore, Gallagher may believe that nature is easily understood by people, and it can therefore help her translate her message.
Similarly to the poem “Choices”, the poem “Orange Sutra” also uses nature as symbolic imagery to help paint a picture in the reader’s mind. In the case of this poem, Gallagher is using a double representation of nature to deepen the meaning of the poem. Gallagher uses the natural image of an orange to represent the moon. Gallagher then uses the moon to represent the emotions of human nature. Through the representation of one item to another, Gallagher is using figurative language, because she is describing human emotion by comparing it with something else, which in this case is nature. This poem is also a good example of how diction can be used to paint a specific picture in the mind of the reader. Gallagher uses images such as an orange, the night, the sky, and bees to make a connection between the natural world and the human world. She uses natural elements to describe human emotion.
There are many differences in the themes that can be seen in the poems “Choices” and “Orange Sutra.” “Choices” has an overall optimistic theme which encourages the reader to look for the beauty and possibility in the world. “Orange Sutra” has a more complex theme with darker undertones. This poem discusses the highs and lows of life by comparing human emotion to the constantly changing phases of the moon. Although the themes of these two poems are very different, these two poems are similar in their use of symbolic imagery. In both poems, the author uses natural imagery to paint a picture in the mind of the reader. Through using these natural images, the reader is better able to understand the theme of the poem because of the universality of nature.
Through reading both of these poems together, the reader is able to make a connection between the two poems to see how Gallagher is demonstrating the power that is present in nature, and how we, as humans, actually part of nature. This can be seen through Gallagher’s use of nature in comparison to human life and emotion. Gallagher does a nice job of uses the natural images found within these poems to help the reader better understand her message. Through using the specifically chosen diction and figurative language found within the symbolic imagery of these poems, Gallagher is able to bring nature to life to her reader.
Gallagher, Tess. “Choices” Retrieved from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178872
Gallagher, Tess. “Orange Sutra” Retrieved from http://www.poetserv.org/SRR15/gallagher.html