The Book of Questions, III

The Book of Questions, III Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Plants (motif)

The first two stanzas focus on plants: a rose and trees. These are common symbols in poetry, about which the speaker is asking unusual questions.

Lines 1-2: The subject of the question is a rose, a common symbol of beauty in poetry. The poem personifies the rose, imagining her as a woman. Then it raises questions about the nature of reality and human perception.

Lines 4-5: Roots grow underground, yet the speaker sees them as bright and shiny, which are attributes of light. Trees bring in light through their leaves, converting it along with water into energy. So in a way, light is stored underground in the roots of trees. Many poems have been written to praise the beauty of fruit and flowers, but roots are often overlooked as merely functional. What does it mean to see the splendor of roots? This can be read as a political, spiritual, or social metaphor. (For more, see “Metaphors” under “Literary Elements”).

Transportation (motif)

The second two stanzas focus on transportation: an automobile and a train. By personifying these modes of transportation, the speaker examines our relationships to overlooked parts of our world, and so to broader issues of ethics, community, and imagination.

Lines 5-6:

The poem is concerned with who has sympathy for the car. The speaker sees the car with animist eyes, as a living being, and wonders who else does too. This is a question about community and imagination. Because the speaker has implied sympathy for the car, we are made to wonder if the car is doing something against its will. And since cars usually do the bidding of humans, it may be a victim of human desire. Perhaps it regrets stealing resources from the earth. It takes a poetic imagination to grant the respect of personification to a car, to see the complex ethical relationships that we ignore in ordinary thought.

Lines 7-8:

Rain is a common symbol of sadness. Anything in the rain could be imagined to be sad–cold, wet, without the comfort of shelter. But a train is built to withstand rain. It takes an extra leap of imagination to find a giant metal train to be a subject of pathos because it’s wet. The word that makes it convincingly sad is the verb “standing,” because a train is made to move, to transport things from place to place.