Linda Pastan: Poems Literary Elements

Linda Pastan: Poems Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

In general, Pastan tends to write from a first person narrative point of view. Most of her poems tend to reflect aspects of her life in a personal way, and so this choice of speaker gives her the scope to express her ideas and experiences.

Form and Meter

Most of Pastan's poetry is un-rhymed, blank verse. Some do rhyme, however those that don't allow her to express her views in a realistic manner, with a conversational meter and tone.

Metaphors and Similes

In Pastan's poem 'The Invalid,' she uses the simile 'You lie spread-eagled on the bed / like Leonardo's study of anatomy,' to create a familiar image to the reader. The invalid person becomes a representation of themselves, just as the paintings of Leonardo are representations. The reference to 'anatomy,' in particular reminds the reader of the medical issues of the body that this person is suffering. She continues the poem with another simile, saying how the Invalid's journey leads back to this image of them lying on the bed, 'as if [they] were / a 19th-century poetess, wedded / to you chaise lounge.' The contrast between the luxurious imagery here and the reality for the invalid makes the poem ever more poignant and pathos is evoked for the suffering of this person.

In her poem 'The Coming on of Night,' Pastan talks of, 'when ambition, like a faulty pilot light, sputters / and goes out' This simile connects ambition with a key piece of equipment in flying, therefore marking the significance of ambition when travelling towards achieving your dreams. The loss of this important aspect is a massive blow to moving forward with the dream you aspire to, according to Pastan. This ambition does not suddenly disappear however. It seems to peter out, gradually becoming dimmer and losing its healthy glow, as the pilot's light does, until it goes out completely.

Alliteration and Assonance

In the poem, 'Erosion,' the alliteration in 'the clock's hands / move continuously,' resembles the ticking of the clock, and the passing of time, which is the central theme of the poem. It emphasises how time is slowly leaving us, and eroding away, even as we read the poem.


The fact that the 'negative numbers squabble / among themselves,' in 'Arithmetic Lesson:Infinity,' is ironic, as the adjective, 'negative,' and their properties as negative, makes this a humorous pun on their character.


Varies. The poem 'The Egg,' is humorous comedy and an "Every-Day" life poem.


The title of the poem 'On the Steps of the Jefferson Memorial,' gives us the setting for this poem, which describes Pastan's thoughts when looking upon it. She reminisces on times past, most likely learned about through history, as well as on her present day situation.


The tone of the poem 'Extremities,' is sad and melancholic, and a bit hopeless. The negative tone is heightened in the rhetorical question, 'Which is worse, that fear / or this grieving?'

Protagonist and Antagonist

In the poem, 'Why Are Your Poems so Dark?' the person asking the title question almost becomes the antagonist provoking Pastan in her poetry style. Pastan is the protagonist, gently giving her thoughts to this antagonist, who does not seem menacing, but perhaps simply curious.

Major Conflict

In the poem, 'The Lumberjacks,' the title characters apparently conflict with both Pastan and the idea of Paradise or simply nature. 'Eve,' a reference to Eve in the Book of Genesis, watches on in Eden as they create 'a carnage of chestnut.' Their actions seem to conflict those of Eve as well.


In the poem 'The Safecracker,' the predominately monosyllabic phrase, 'My knees fall open,' marks the climax of this poem, as the safe is cracked open, after a tense, yet exciting build up before hand.


The phrase 'the way the seasons / heal each other,' in the poem 'The Apple Shrine,' foreshadows the healing of Pastan's husband, as she reveals, 'Today you start to see again,' later in the poem.


In the poem 'Faith,' Pastan refers to a mistake made by someone telling her how the world was made as 'a small miscalculation.' In fact she is referring to the revelation that a scientific view of creation is wrong, and the Creation story of the Bible is right. Considering this poem is about what the writer's belief and faith is hinged on, such a change in belief should perhaps warrant more of a reaction than simply calling it 'a small miscalculation,' therefore it is a major understatement.


In the poem 'Faith,' Pastan alludes to the creation story and the Fall in Genesis of the Holy Bible. She states 'if tomorrow you tell me [...] that God indeed created the world,' referring to the Creation story. She also adds detail by adding the time frame, referencing that in the Bible, of 'in 6 short days, then rested on the 7th.' Pastan also refers to the Fall by alluding to Eve eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil, when she says, 'that it was Eve who landed us / in all this trouble.' This is a rather casual and nonchalant reference to sin and suffering in the world.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

In the poem 'On the Steps of the Jefferson Memorial,' Pastan refers to 'the slave / in the kitchen downstairs.' Here, although mentioning one specific person, she contemplates the plight of all slaves, with this particular, specific example marking and representing the overall cause and suffering of slavery itself, through synecdoche.


In the poem 'I am learning to abandon the world,' Pastan uses the personification of the sun, or even presenting it as alive, but an animal, in 'the sun lays its warm muzzle on my lap, / as if to make amends.' The noun 'muzzle,' is an example of zoomorphism, whilst the phrase, 'to make amends,' gives an emotive human characteristic to the sun. It shed some life and feeling into the poem from the world's point of view, contrasting Pastan's thoughts that the world will abandon her.


In the poem 'The Lumberjacks,' the phrase 'and the smell / of sawdust was like death,' is hyperbole, exaggerating the physical situation, yet representing the significance of the whole situation, as the trees die, and the image of Paradise is ruined


The onomatopoeia, 'delicate crack,' in the poem 'Egg,' allows the reader to experience not only the noise, but also the sensation of cracking an egg open with a spoon. It also emphasises the metaphor 'of lightening,' which puts natural imagery on to this normal, everyday scene.

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