The tone of a poem is the speaker’s attitude toward the subject and the reader. The writer conveys this attitude using particular language and writing style. His language and choice of words, also known as diction, evokes certain feelings in the reader. In Li-Young Lee’s poem, “The Gift,” the speaker describes a memory with a tender tone.
The speaker's attitude, or the tone of the poem, elicits a particular kind of emotional response in the reader. The writer evokes this response using a specific kind of diction and writing style, creating a certain atmosphere in the body of the poem. This atmosphere is known as mood. For example, if a poem has a longing and sorrowful tone, it might evoke feelings of hopelessness in the reader. As a result, the mood or the atmosphere of the poem might be one of loneliness.
The speaker of Li-Young Lee’s “The Gift” describes a memory from his childhood. The speaker addresses the reader in a direct manner, as if he is telling someone a story. For example, he states, “I can't remember the tale,/ but hear his voice still, a well/ of dark water, a prayer./ And I recall his hands,/ two measures of tenderness/ he laid against my face,/ the flames of discipline/ he raised above my head.” The language makes it seem as if the memories are coming back to the speaker at that very moment, and that he is discovering them along with reader.
Tone of “The Gift”
The speaker of the poem remembers a moment of tenderness between him and his father and then reenacts that moment of tenderness with his wife, while taking a splinter out of her hand. The poem has no specific rhyme or meter, and this lack of poetic structure creates the illusion of a person actually relaying a story or a memory. The speaker's attitude toward his memories is nostalgic and calm. Thus, the tone of the poem as a whole is informal and tender.
Effect of the Tone of “The Gift”
The poem’s informal and tender tone evokes feelings of nostalgia and calmness in the reader. The nostalgia is not heartbreaking, but tender and even-keeled, creating an almost serene atmosphere. This atmosphere or mood does not make the reader pine for the past, but rather appreciate what the speaker has in the moment. In particular, the tone of the poem makes the reader feel happy for the speaker and his ability to relive his moment of tenderness.
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