Jasmine Anderson

Heather McHugh is a California born Canadian whose dad was a marine biologist. This Leo soared through high school and began Harvard University at the age of 17. Her first collection of poems was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1977. From then she went on to publish several collections of poems and essays. She has been recognized with several awards such as the National Book Award or the Griffin International Poetry Prize and short-listed for a Pulitzer Prize. Her most recent publication was in 2009, “Upgraded to Serious”.


Initially I thought this poem was about a grown man but then as I continued to read it, I began to think it is in the perspective of a grown man looking back on his thoughts as a child. McHugh's use of perspective taps into my brain. It only has 23 short lines, which increases the drama. The tone throughout the poem in the first stanza is rushed "looks at his watch"(Line 1). McHugh also uses wordplay and puns which she is famous for in line 8, "The son grows thin". This is a great example of her sarcastic style and dry humor, common qualities of her poems. I observed she makes a lot of sense references ("felt calendar", "bites his tongue", "saw outside") and all of this contributes to the growing imagery that paints a vivid picture of what's going on in his mind. I don't recognize a specific rhyme scheme or meter or any sort of rhyme for that matter. There are a lot of things about this poem I don't understand, like the message she was trying to display, but her style is very unique. An aspect of this poem confuses me a lot, because she kind of jumps around subject wise. The child she describes is peculiar, and I say that based on lines 13-17 “He bites his tongue. At school his days are numbered. He makes a felt calendar, but that’s not really the idea. He has a hard time understanding that color is the frequency and not the object.” I have no clue what a felt calendar is, I never made one in elementary school. As I began to type this, I understand the color part of those lines. What she meant by that was the boy thinks that yellow is sun, red is firetruck, just associated the color with the object and not the “value” of the color itself. This brings upon a line of questioning in my head, “Why doesn’t he understand? After further contemplation, that section I discussed relates to me the most. It describes the struggles of being misunderstood and I know that too well because my younger sister is special needs. As a child, I used to get mad when people would stare and everything else. I can only imagine how misunderstood my sister felt, since how she developed is out of her control.




In the field is a house
of wood. A window of the house
contains the field.

You can't see far
with a sun in the sky,
with a living-room lamp

at night. Locality is all
you light, and you, as single
as a bed. But there's

no end to dark. The bed is in the clearing
and the clearing's in the wind; the world
is a world among others. Now your cell-stars split.

My first thought is that there are a lot of paradoxes used, or what seems to be paradoxes. This poem also uses puns, which as i read more of McHugh, I discovered it was one of her favorite things to use in her writing. I have to think a lot more reading this poem, its ideas are far more broad and philosophical. There are many ways I can interpret this poem. One way would be to say her point is how some things that seem so relative are literally further away. In lines 1-3 "In the field is a house of wood (enjambment). A window of the house contains a field." She could be possibly talking about the relativity of a field and a home. But what puzzles me is what she's trying to get at. I don't really know what the deeper meaning is. The only thing I can come up with is how in life things are all about perspective, and that distance may be irrelevant. "Locality is all you light, and you as single as a bed" (7-8). Rhyme is only present in the first two (out of a mere 12 lines) and it is end rhyme. Again it is not apparent to me of a specific meter but all of her poems are fairly short. The tone overall is of distance and attainability. "The world is a world among others. Now your cell-stars split". Strange truth about life. Thinking relatively will only keep a person closed minded. There is so much to this world, so many people, cultures, languages, foods, diversity, etc. After further inspection, she is trying to say the little things like "the sun in the sky" or a "living room lamp" are only little specs in contrast to this ever growing world. Keeping an open can make the life we live more enjoyable. Not focusing on minute things can maintain general happiness. With each Heather McHugh poem I've read every aspect is somewhat abnormal. Her ideas are very abstract and her approach is intriguing and that's what I like the most.



The first thing I noticed about this poem is there are two lines, then two stanzas, and then the final two lines. This indicates to me that these four lines (first two and last two) are very important to McHugh. The title only explicitly relates to the first line “Some are waiting, some can’t wait.” What is said is a common truth about life, there are some that have an extreme amount of patience, and other who are bothered by waiting for even 2 seconds. In this poem yet again, McHugh aimlessly jumps around subject wise. There is a shift after the first two lines, she begins to talk about the cycle of life. “The sun dies down, the graveyard grows” (3 and 4). Her use of irony makes me think. The word grow usually refers to the beginning of life (in plants, humans, ideas, etcetera). The word die usually alludes to the loss or decomposition of something. The fact that she uses them with things opposite of their meaning makes the statement even more strong. “Even the underground comes to an end” (6) another reference to the cycle of life. I’m not very familiar with the length of undergrounds, but of course she means it figuratively. The point she is trying to make is that everything goes on. People die, new days begin, “and all those flights of fancy birds settle for one telephone wire” (7 and 8). Regardless of the trials and tribulations people face, no one’s life takes pause. “Outside his window an old man with a hearing aid walks aimlessly, happy to just be alive” (15 and 16). I sometimes fail to realize this personally. Not to say that I think the world revolves around me, but I don’t always think about how life goes on. Metaphorically, McHugh discussed this, using irony as well, and her message was well conveyed.cycle.jpg


The most interesting part of McHugh's poems is how I seem to find ways to relate them to my sister and how she lives. In this poem I feel as though she is talking about a special needs person again. I’ve also come to the conclusion that poetry isn’t for me. It can be so abstract, and I don’t relate well with abstract ideas. I think this is also the most confusing poem I’ve read so far. “He likes five women, one in black, and one in yellow, whitey, pinky, and the naked one” (4-6) she isn’t talking about actual descriptions of women. The type of adjectives “pinky, whitey” suggest to me that the color of clothing is being described. In another McHugh poem, “Mind”, she discussed a boy who didn’t understand color as a frequency, and only associated the color with an object of that color. Based on that observation, I came to the conclusion that this is another either special needs boy or young boy. “Pinky” and “Whitey” are child-like describing words, which is another supporting factor of my opinion and analysis of the lines. She then goes on to say “In all his stories he loses his heart”(7) This mean that he becomes emotionally attached to each story that is seems a part of him goes missing. A large aspect of being young and oblivious is not knowing that things such as stories you don’t have to be emotionally attached to. It’s hard to distinguish the imperative and irrelevant at that point of a person’s life. So the fact that he feels he “loses his heart” makes sense to me. She then goes on to talk about how they explain the cycle of life “that he’s born to die” (8) , very true but may not be as deep to him. The most provocative part of McHugh’s poems is her use of diction. Her use of diction characterizes who she’s talking about in the poem. With child-like adjectives, and having to explain things like the life cycle, she uses it to develop the thoughts about who she is writing about. Overall, her use of diction and detail are appreciated and I realize why people like her poems so much.